Seven: Ballet am Rhein @ Edinburgh Playhouse, 20 Aug

Germany's Ballett am Rhein team up with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra to perform Martin Schläpfer’s response to Mahler’s Seventh Symphony

Review by Stephanie Green | 28 Aug 2015
  • Seven: Ballet am Rhein

Pointe ballet shoes, bare feet and boots sum up this contemporary ballet inspired by Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, superbly played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conducted by Wen-Pin Chien. Interrupted fragments of folk music, martial, or lyrical passages are echoed by the choreography: a collage of disconnected vignettes, Balanchine-inspired neoclassicism or tanztheater, in a  nocturnal dream world we cannot quite grasp.

Love duets become casually dismissive. Ugly contortions and drumming boots express abusive relationships: a male drags a female on stage with her head under his arm; others are dragged by the hair or lifted into the air with legs akimbo revealing too much crotch, albeit clothed in functional gym knickers. The males suffer too but there is something unpleasantly misogynistic in this piece, though occasionally the females fight back, usually en pointe and with hair in a bun.

Just as Mahler inserts cow horns, Schläpfer’s depressing view of humanity is undercut with silliness – dancers imitating a train or the girl underneath a tiny table (why?) but despite these moments, and extraordinary athletic dancers performing difficult choreography, its fragmentary nature is unsatisfactory and does not do justice to Mahler’s subtlety.

Only in the more cheerful Rondo is there a strong change of mood, when neoclassical dance is underpinned by the whole company in boots and long coats rushing round chairs in a circle, reminiscent of a children’s game where someone will be ‘out’. A reminder of the Holocaust, or of any outsiders in society. Finally, rather late, this stunning scene gives the whole piece depth.

Seven: Ballett am Rhein, Edinburgh Playhouse, run ended