Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

four stars

A desire to challenge preconceptions about dance, and what we expect from it, underpins this bold new double bill from Scottish Ballet. Choreographers and dancers alike have opted to sidestep familiar styles and explore other directions in movement and creativity. There are surprises on-stage.

Dickson Mbi initially made his name as a top-notch body-popping dancer. Twice-Born, commissioned and premiered by Scottish Ballet, reveals other sides to his abilities, not least as a music-maker - he composed the score, crafting an atmospheric collage of chants, potent drumming and melodic interludes that echo the mystical-mythic feel of the choreography.

The opening moments are broodingly cataclysmic: rumbling thunder and tumbling rocks attend the arrival of a matriarchal figure who will guide the community across eons, even sacrificing herself to redeem them when troubled times erupt.

Rhythmic unity is a hallmark of the piece, with visually striking moments seeing dancers cluster together as one - bodies rising and falling on the same breath, bonded as if by primal instincts into patterns of ritualistic behaviour.

Mbi lets his imagination take flight - quite literally, with the soaring ‘resurrection’ of the Mother (Marge Hendrick, a truly compelling presence) that restores balance and order within the tribe.

Twice-Born showcases foot-stomping synchronicity, with almost-military precision in formations - Scottish Ballet’s dancers are on the same physically intense wavelength throughout, not least when it comes to toting around the ‘rocks’ spawned by that volcanic opening.

And the company is equally, and impressively, in tune with the wonderful quirks and playful gambits in this UK premiere of Cayetano Soto’s Schachmatt (Checkmate).

Soto readily acknowledges his regard for Bob Fosse’s work and yes, the hip swivels and wrist flicks nod in that direction but Soto’s blend of chess-board logistics and frisky-risqué humour is his own invention.

If Mbi’s piece is, perhaps, harder to fathom, Schachmatt is easy to adore - together they celebrate the company’s willingness to break new ground.