To creep on tip-toes

Zoe Grams hunts bears and ballet dancers at Scottish Ballet’s Ride the Beast

You’d be forgiven for thinking a ballet set to five classic Radiohead songs is a marketing strategy to appeal to the yoofs; something that sits as uncomfortably as Esther Ransen speaking to inner city kids about Drum’n’Bass. However, director Stephen Petronio’s latest offering combines elegance, allure, self-awareness and even a sense of humour with none of the self-consciousness that could have manifested itself.

Ride the Beast marks the first time since 2002 that an outside choreographer has been commissioned by Scottish Ballet. It was well worth the risk. Set to tracks ‘Fitter Happier’, ‘Creep’, ‘The National Anthem’, ‘Idioteque’ and ‘Hunting Bears’, structured, jerking movements are merged with fluid, arching shapes: a combination that appears organic yet complex.

Rolling shoulders and almost languid sweeps of legs and arms in the opening scene are a stark contrast to the staccato hip thrusts and all-elbow moves of the dance to ‘Idioteque’. The result is the appearance of dancers who seem to be exploring their muscles for the first time.

Contrast continues into the costumes: utilitarian outfits of black and white made seductive with rips, contours, feathers and cape-like wings. The emergence of a variety of brightly-coloured dancers lifted the entire piece with a joie de vivre that could only be glimpsed at in previous sections.
Ride the Beast is a tantalising display and during its highlights, static seems to come from the stage.

It almost manages to make the well-loved music sound like a soundtrack to the dance, rather than a piece in and of itself. Unfortunately, the inability to do this is easily the piece’s biggest flaw.

The performance – if only occasionally – overly interprets the themes in each song rather than using the music as a backdrop for its own. The dance to ‘Creep’ may have included some magnificent displays of physicality, but it still mirrored too succinctly the sort of awkward, uncoordinated adolescent in the throws of insecurity that is portrayed too often for it to be effective.

But it’s extremely difficult to pick holes in a piece interwoven with this much subtlety, complexity and sexiness. Ride the Beast achieves the rare feat of not only fusing the contemporary  music of Radiohead with the classical elements of ballet, but also revealing new potential for both artforms.


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