Crystal Pite, the Canadian dancemaker who combines intellectual, emotional and physical intelligence in rare degree, is classically trained, but her work is most often made for and performed by contemporary companies. Hence the attraction of this Edinburgh International Festival programme. Scottish Ballet, in the European premiere of a piece Pite made for the National Ballet of Canada in 2009, offered a rare chance to see how her distinctive sensibility plays on the refined bodies of a classical company, and promised to whet the appetite for her upcoming creation for the Royal Ballet in March next year.
Emergence confronts explicitly the tension between Pite’s experiences of working with contemporary dancers in egalitarian companies and the strict hierarchy of classical ballet. Taking the social life of bees as an inspiration, it plays with the fine lines between cooperation and coercion, discipline and dictatorship. In oscillating formations that constantly hint at iconic corps de ballet groupings (straight lines like the swans in Swan Lake, a one-by-one entry like the Shades in La Bayadère), the women and men of the company flow back and forth across the stage in waves that might or might not be antagonistic: there is no violence, but there is an air of menace as the women, with their spiky elbows held stiffly behind them like wings, begin to make a rustling sound. They are counting out loud, whispering the beats — like soldiers marching, yes, but also making audible their own usually-silent monologue. It’s simple, and utterly gripping: reminiscent of William Forsythe’s silent clock-like Duo. Pite, who danced with Ballett Frankfurt under Forsythe, shares his way with rhythm and the deconstruction of ballet vocabulary (a flat-footed rond de jambe sequence is one of Emergence’s most memorable visuals), but combines it with her own talent for making large groups move in fascinating organic shapes.