VELVET PETAL at Laban
Meaning only reveals itself slowly in great art. But while you are striving to discover it, you can revel in the beauty of the medium.
Take Scottish Dance Theatre’s Velvet Petal, which has been lauded throughout its UK tour and was given a rapturous reception during a two-night stay at Laban theatre.
It opened with dancer Adrienne O’Leary talking to us about decisive moments in history and photography and wondering plaintively about how, indeed if, she will be remembered. Around her, 11 other dancers moved singly, in pairs or in groups among racks of clothes, a single mattress and a blown-up Polaroid self-portrait of pioneering photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, the lover of punk poet Patti Smith.
To add a final layer of mystery, the title of the show refers to the delicate wings of monarch butterflies which darken the skies over Mexico each year in a spectacular mass migration.
In lesser hands, this apparent mixing of metaphors could simply have been a mess. But Fleur Darkin’s choreography was so exquisite and was given life with such luscious precision by her dancers that initially it was enough simply to bask in the joy of pure movement.
And slowly, slowly the inner meanings of the work began to emerge. First came the frustrations of adolescence so often manifested in posturing fashion-consciousness, claustrophobic sexual yearning, empty promiscuity and a sense of alienation.
But then the stuff that really matters was unveiled – our capacity for wonder, the potential of growth through change and, most vital of all, the transformative power of love.
It was heady, life-affirming stuff, performed with an energy and intelligence that left me breathless. But not too breathless to join the cheers of the audience at the end of this enthralling show.