Show: Highland Fling by Scottish Ballet
Venue: Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Date: 14th April 2018
Director and choreographer: Matthew Bourne
Music: composed by Herman Severin Løvenskiold; performed by The Scottish Ballet Orchestra
Principal dancers: Constance Devernay (The Sylph) & Jamie Reid (James)
Highland Fling is a reimagining of the original ballet by Filipo Taglioni, La Sylphide, which was first performed in 1832. This new version was created by Matthew Bourne in the 90s, and is set in modern-day Scotland. The story follows a young man, engaged to be married and living a pretty wild life, who attracts the attention and adoration of a mysterious Sylph. She draws him into her world, but their attempts to be together will inevitably end in tragedy.
Seeing this performance so recently after a production of The Little Mermaid made for an interesting contrast. Both present central themes of doomed love and an ill-fated desire to change who (or what) you are, and yet were very different tonally.
This particular show doesn’t feel like a traditional ballet for the most part, and would be more accurately described as ballet-meets-interpretive-dance-meets-comedy-meets-tragedy. It’s highly story driven, and the first half in particular was very comedic (and it’s worth pointing out for those interested that it may not be one for young children, as there are a fair few references to sex and drugs). The second half takes a darker turn, when James enters the realm of the Sylphs. I particularly enjoyed the choreography in this section, with the Sylphs’ movements enhancing their ethereal and alluring nature.
The ability to shift from the comedic, jaunty tone that prevailed throughout the bulk of the performance, to deliver a surprisingly powerful and poignant climax was great – and the latter portion of the show with its haunting final image was definitely the highlight for me.
The setting of 1990s Scotland and various pop-culture references made for a fun and unique set-up, but I appreciated the choice to retain Løvenskiold’s musical score from the 1800s. It was a nice nod to the story’s more classical roots, and it tied in well with the fairy tale-esque elements of the story.
It was altogether very different from any other ballet I’ve seen, but I admired it for its bold, playful interpretation of a classic.