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Reviews / Review: ballet for every generation

Bethany Kingsley-Garner as the Sylph and Nicholas Shoesmith as James in Scottish Ballet's production of Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling. Photos: Andy Ross

FOR the first time ever, Shetland got the unique opportunity to host a full-scale Scottish Ballet production when Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling visited the isles at the weekend, writes Zdenka Mlynarikova.

 Having transported their own scenes to the isles as well as rebuilding the stage at the Clickimin, local audiences were treated to the same experience as if they were seeing the show in Glasgow or Edinburgh, although it was without a live orchestra.

With the 50th anniversary of Scottish Ballet coming up next year, this is a big step towards bringing more high quality entertainment to remote areas.

Inspired by August Bournonville’s interpretation of La Sylphide, originally written by Filipo Taglioni, this modern and energetic ballet takes us on a surreal romantic journey when James, a young unemployed welder who’s just about to get married, gets enchanted by the mysterious Sylph (fairy) who makes him reconsider his feelings towards the intended love of his life.

With tartan hanging in the background and the sound of traditional Scottish music, an authentic atmosphere is created even before the dancers appear on stage. As the performance begins, classical music takes over and reminds us of the elegance of ballet.

Unlike its classical version, the first act begins in the toilets of the Highland Fling social club disco, where The Sylph appears to James for the first time.

Scottish Ballet dancers in Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling.

The author dynamically introduces us to the main characters – James and Effie – as well as helping us to understand what drives the other characters. The couple aren’t the only ones dealing with a troubled love life – everyone seems to have an interest in the person they can’t be with, which makes the whole wedding look even more ridiculous.

Nicknamed the ‘Trainspotting of Ballet’, Bourne bravely takes us for a wild night out in the toughest back streets of Glasgow full of alcohol, drugs and love affairs. But the appearance of a mystical Sylph creates a very strong contrast to the modern scenes of life in Glasgow. This might be hard to imagine, but the author makes it work.

While in the first act we only witness a couple of visits from the magical world of the Sylphs, they definitely dominate in the second act, where all the actors apart from James take on a Sylph role of their own and impress the audience with perfectly timed choreography.

By using the same music as Bournonville did in La Sylphide, Bourne greatly impresses and speaks to all generations.

The second act is set in a forest, where James gets to know The Sylph in her natural environment. This act is emotional not only for James, being slightly lost in the world of the unknown, but also for the other Sylphs, showing their concern about the wellbeing of one of their own, who foolishly fell in love with a human.

Typically the love between man and mystical creature does not come without a dark side and this story is no exception. James, being selfish and blindly wanting to have The Sylph just for himself, doesn’t think much about the consequences.

Beautiful, well-crafted scenes and costumes add even more to this brilliant contemporary ballet performance. Bourne’s attention to detail stands out and although characters are allowed to have a slight personal input, which had to be approved beforehand to preserve authenticity.

The actors of Scottish Ballet are also trained in leading workshops and classes, which was another great opportunity for remote communities to engage.

After leaving audiences in rapturous applause two days in a row, there is no doubt that Scottish Ballet’s visit to the isles has been a success.



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