The Hindu presents a unique performance of contemporary dance by the Scottish Dance Theatre on October 21.

The Scottish Dance Theatre (SDT) is poised to perform in Chennai, but those expecting reels, Highland Flings and bagpipes will be in for a surprise. SDT is “Scottish in its geography, rather than its dance style,” the company’s acting Artistic Director James MacGillivray tells The Hindu.

SDT, widely regarded as the country’s leading contemporary dance company, began life in 1986 as a community-based performance group in Dundee with a strong commitment to outreach work. “Creative Learning” continues to be a cornerstone in the company’s credo; in Chennai, SDT will conduct workshops for students, teachers and young people with disabilities.

The Chennai performance marks the company’s all-India premiere. Their four-city India tour of Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi and Kolkata will be presented by the company’s full complement of 10 acclaimed, full-time dancers, picked from around the world.

“The programme of work we are bringing to India highlights the vast range of our dancers,” says MacGillivray who leads SDT’s India tour. “Their technical and partnering skills are pushed to the limits, as much as their performance skills, and the ability to connect with something true within themselves.”

Three pieces

The performance features three pieces from SDT’s repertoire: the romantic and visually sumptuous ‘Luxuria’ by Liv Lorent; the high-risk duet ‘Drift’ by James Wilton; and the witty ‘DOG’ by Hofesh Shechter. These three choreographers are acknowledged to be among the most interesting, currently creating work in the U.K.

The company’s working style is to commission choreographers over a five-week period to create a piece, after which they return to their own dance companies. Then it is up to SDT’s dancers and artistic team to preserve the choreographers’ concepts during the piece’s performance life-span. When needed, choreographers are invited again to remind and refresh the dancers.

“As a rep company it is crucial that we keep the individual identities of choreographers, otherwise we risk being ‘general’, and non-specific,” says MacGillivray.

Each choreographer’s approach is different in presentation and intent. For example, Schechter says DOG “started with a simple idea of having very hard movement, and then very soft, quiet, earthy movement. When you start to create movement, it immediately throws a world of images into your head and then you start to translate them into movement.”

Liv Lorent, on the other hand, says, “I’m interested in an emotional commonplace. I have always found great solace in a book, a painting, a piece of music or theatre that seems to express perfectly the unutterable inside me, and I suppose with dance I’m trying to offer the same possibilities for engagement and personal connection.”

“We do not intend to tell stories but, often, strong narrative themes will be woven through the works,” says MacGillivray, himself a former dancer with SDT. The alchemy of transmuting the choreographer’s intent into visual communication with the audience lies with the dancers, whose own interpretation of the piece becomes crucial. About ‘Drift’, dancer Natalie Trewinnard says, “I feel that the piece is a snapshot of a couple’s relationship; by the end they have moved forward but have not been able to resolve their issues.” She initially performed the piece with MacGillivray but the baton has passed on.

However, when a work has been created around specific bodies and performance abilities how are other dancers able to perform it? MacGillivray answers that just as language allows many ways of saying the same thing, so does dance. The trick when working with new dancers is “to find the ways we can express the same ideas, within the language of the choreographer.”

Complex partnering

Specifically with ‘Drift’, “the duet requires a lot of trust between the couple, and the partnering is complex and relentless. It is important, for safety and aesthetics, that the new dancers are able to adapt the work to suit their bodies.”

MacGillivray shares that the company is keen to discover more about Indian contemporary dance, its organic evolution and its roots in traditional Indian dance forms and martial arts. “I hope that we can learn more of this art form from the artists we meet — contemporary dance is about ‘now’, and India is striving to state what is important to its culture ‘now’.”

(The performances in Chennai and Bangalore are presented by The Hindu in association with The British Council and the Scottish Government. In Chennai, it will be staged on October 21, 7.30 p.m. at the Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, Harrington Road, Chetpet, and in Bangalore, on October 25, 7.30 p.m. at Chowdiah Hall.)

For tickets

Tickets are priced at Rs.300/200/100. Student passes are priced at Rs. 50. They can be purchased online from www.thehindu.com/SDT, www.indianstage.in, www.bookmyshow.com and www.ticketnew.com. Helpline: 9841416933