Highland Fling

Kilted boys in biker jackets, tartan clad girls in figure-hugging pants, Brigadoon meets Grease, Gregory’s Girl meets West Side story? No, the setting is a toilet and this is the opening scene of a truly original ballet, Highland Fling.

 

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It takes its DNA from La Sylphide, a ballet that caused a sensation similar to Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring almost a century later. The romantic roots remain at the core of Highland Fling where the constant desire for fantasy and dismissal of reality are played out beautifully through the medium of dance. But there is so much more to this performance.

Complex elements of Scottish culture are examined with accuracy, sensitivity and humour. Scene 1, fueled with alcohol and drugs, builds to a memorable climax. Director Mathew Bourne has the midas touch in creating art that taps into sometimes conflicting emotions simultaneously. Aided by this ambivalence, he has your absolute attention.

The shenanigans of The Social Club toilet move swiftly to the second scene and the joy of James (Christopher Harrison) and Effie’s (Katie Webb) wedding. Lex Brotherston complements Bourne’s storytelling with a bold set design. Walls and furniture of tartan and plaid, Rangers and Celtic memorabilia and photos of famous Scots, an imaginative spectrum from Sean Connery to The Krankies.

The material backdrop of identity (catholic/protestant, urban/rural, straight/gay kitsch/cool) adds beautifully to the torment and confusion of James. The endearing Sylph (Sophie Martin) taps into his dark side and the allure for something more than his fixed fate fires his heart and imagination. The tarot-card reading Madge adds a gothic panache to the Act that ends with James committing himself to his dark side as he makes a suicidal leap to the ethereal Sylph.

A poignant message that in a Scotland dominated by imposed identity born of culture and politics, individuality trumps all.

 

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Act II and we enter the land of The Sylph – a virtual Valhalla en Ecosse – where James continues his pursuit of his elusive fantasy. At this point all disbelief is suspended; tight choreography, twilight and an incongruous VW Beetle make for an endearing ‘other world’. The parameters of the story already told, the dancers are allowed free rein. James acts as a proxy for the audience as the mesmerizing power of the Sylphs dazzle. But in art as in life reality finally catches up with fantasy and both James and the Sylph meet a tragic end.

Andy Murray and plethora of Olympians, Ewan Macgregor and James McAvoy, whisky and fine Cashmere, perhaps even Harris Tweed. Scotland has some quality exports and to this we should add Scottish Ballet.

Their interpretation of A Street Car Named Desire rightfully won accolades and awards but doing a Scottish ballet and addressing complex and controversial cultural themes with insight and compassion is even more impressive. I’m no expert in the ‘mother arts’ but I once saw The Barber of Seville in Budapest. If a Scot can enjoy an Opera set in Spain, performed in Hungary and sung in Italian then there is no reason why a Highland Fling cannot have a similar international appeal.

You can catch Highland Fling at several top Scottish venues throughout May. More info here.

 

 

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