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Fancy footwork

As the Ricochet Dance Company wows Scotland, Kay Smith sees how its workshops help one Edinburgh school widen its dance horizons

Heads flick back and forth; shoulders pulsate; arms flutter and bodies tee-ter forward on tip toes. In the world premiere of Treading the Night Plain, performed last week at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, Ricochet Dance Company allowed us a glimpse of the migration of flight-borne nocturnal creatures.

At times the creatures travel side by side, linked only by a common sense of direction. Often, however, in counterpoint or in harmony with Terry Riley's score (played by the Kronos Quartet) they interact, with lightness and alacrity, in changing configurations of duets and trios.

Suddenly, with little apparent effort, one springs several feet up into the arms or onto the backs of others. Or, somewhat more laboriously, tension is applied as another pulls away in the opposite direction. Always the focus is united by a beam of light.

Ricochet is a London-based company of high-calibre dancers who commission works from outside choreographers. Joining Rosemary Lee's Treading the Night Plain in the current double bill is a new work by Javier de Frutos, performed to Stravinsky's Les Noces - its title, All Visitors Bring Happiness, Some by Coming, Some by Going.

The scene is set as three rather narcissistic women are ignored by a male dancer who greets another male with a vampishly passionate kiss. As the work unfolds, the dancers portray, with fluid virtuosity, the clash between self-interest and a deep-seated need for approval and companionship.

The piece is intricate, and catching its every nuance is not necessarily easy, but members of Edinburgh's Broughton High after-school dance club loved it. The club has so far concentrated on a funky beat-by-beat interpretation of jazz rock music. But through a workshop which formed part of the extensive education programme that Ricochet is delivering alongside its two-month performance schedule around Scotland, they had earlier in the week been encouraged to deepen their experience of movement.

After a warm-up they were asked to concentrate not on a whole sequence of steps but on one exercise which had them working in pairs, slowly intertwining with each other, taking it in turns to bear each other's weight.

Make the movements "honey-like", tutor Toby Gunn had advised, and above all "don't look in the mirror and don't pose". Instead of reflecting a preconceived notion, the movement "must be genuine. It must be in your bones, your sinews, " he urged.

"It felt awkward at first - touching each other's sweaty bodies," commented 15-year-old Gemma Dow afterwards. "The rules were set - you couldn't pose. That made it harder," added her partner Gillian Markey.

The effort was worth it, however, as they experimented with different holds, finally creating an original piece of highly watchable movement that could easily have passed muster in a professional studio. At the professionals' performance at the Traverse, they then observed how such a creative process, described by Toby Gunn as "an adventure", could result in a full-blown work. Gemma was fascinated to see that serious contemporary dance could be performed not only with mellifluous slowness but with rapid-fire precision, not unlike the fast-moving robotics-style jazz with which she was already familiar.

During its Scottish tour, set up by Edinburgh-based Dance Productions, Ricochet will bring its education work to a wide range of groups. Last week, in addition to the Broughton High workshop, it did a four-day residency at Fort Primary School in Leith, a workshop with a women's support group and a "solo surgery" for professional dancers.

This week it has gone as far afield as Shetland and taken in, among its school and community work, Shetland Youth Theatre, Anderston High and Scalloway Junior High and Primary schools. Next month it will work in Stirling with the well-established Stirling Youth Dance Company and in Clackmannanshire with pupils with behaviourial problems from the Secondary School Support Unit, where Ricochet's co-artistic director Karin Potisk expects pupils to respond well to the opportunity of finding new ways of working together.

Educational work may bring the company what Potisk calls "Brownie points" - essential, these days, to secure funding. But she also emphasises its direct benefits to the performer. "You have to clarify your objectives for others. By doing so, you make them clear for yourself," she says.

In turn schools and community groups get the chance to create their own work, often for performance in front of others - an experience that leaves participants "pleased and proud", says Potisk. "It is also very rewarding for us."

Alongside its education programme, Ricochet will perform in Shetland on January 25, in Aberdeen on February 1, in Stirling on February 8, and Dundee February 21-22. Also taking in schools in Glasgow and Wick, the programme continues until March 7

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