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Reviews / Music-meets-dance performance ‘mesmerising’

An archive image of the Sketches performance. Photo: Amy Sinead

From carnival to contemporary dance, Shetland really does have it all, writes James Paton.

Disappointed to have missed the carnival on Saturday, not seen since a visit home in the mid-2000s. My ticket to Sketches at Mareel, however, did not disappoint.

Sketches is a touring production combining classical music and contemporary dance with occasional DJ electronica. Not a new phenomenon apparently, but new to me.

The inspiration was taken from Bach’s Violin Concerto in A Minor. Not a piece I was familiar with either. I do take great joy in experiencing the completely new.

Two of quintet didn’t make it due to fog. A potential disappointment but one cannot be disappointed by missing what one does not know what to expect.

The troupe adapted the performance accordingly we were told – the sign of great professionals to adapt at short notice. For my part, naivety, if not ignorance, can be a blessing in experiencing something very different, if not unique.

No point in trying then to compare this mesmerising, often scary, piece with anything I’d experienced before.

That said the speed and precision of the choreography reminded me of Théâtre de Complicité,  seen in Glasgow’s Tron theatre in early 80s.

There were one or two flashes of humour in the movements, especially during the chair and table work. These only heightened the suspense and darkness of the quasi-robotic movements, which only extenuated the overall intensity, which grew throughout the piece.

The dance focused on a great deal on arm, hand and leg work – blink and you would miss some of it – and its velocity and precision were impressive.

The instruments too were in motion, particularly at the beginning as they followed and accompanied the dancers being introduced through varied introductory encountering walks across the dance floor. A new concept to me, if not dance.

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Light use of a smoke machine and predominantly red lighting added to the intrigue and emotions provoked. The dancers stern faces added to the sense of intensity and growing alarm, if not fear.

Often the arm and hand choreography, staccato in its nature compounded that from violin, viola and cello, and gave a robotic feel, complemented by the rare appearance of the electronica DJ.

I did wonder if was an unnecessary distraction, but for me it worked. The ballet trained dancers gave a very complex performance, certainly compared to most ballet I’ve seen. I was transfixed, in awe.

‘How could they possible remember all this?’, given it was disjointed, almost literally, difficult to tell whose arms, hands and legs belong to whom at times.

We were at floor level to the performance which added to the intensity – feeling you were in it at times. I’d suggest this does need to be seen close up, giving a personal experience.

Proximity can often be distracting by not being sure where to look – who to follow.

By accident I found myself increasingly focusing on none of them in particular but on the empty middle distance, as per meditation. This brought a whole new dimension by seeing ‘it all’ as if at a distance, but keeping the intensity of being in the front row and seeing the whites of their eyes.

Consequently I am sure this would not work with a large audience or indeed one tiered as per normal theatre, but perhaps would via theatre in the round.

The forty minute performance seemed longer, perhaps given the piece transporting this audience member to somewhere new, somewhere different and out of my comfort zone – and a very good thing too.

Unlike the weather outside no doldrums, but like the encroaching sea haar outside mysterious and deliciously unsettling.

They are performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, and if you are in Edinburgh then it would be well worth adding this string to your cultural experience bow. If not, tell your friends.

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