Barrowland Ballet’s latest creation Wolves gives body and voice to ideas of community, transmission and conflict in this inventive and uplifting production. The pack is made up of a more than fifty-strong cast of professional and non-professional dancers of all ages and ethnicities, led by the voice and instrument of viola-player Mairi Campbell.
To portray the life of the pack, the production unfolds in a complex sequence of duets, trios, quartet, and group dances, in which the dancers’ bodies lean tenderly against each other, heads touching heads. In one of few scenes suggesting the savagery of the wolves, we see a woman falling prey to the pack, trapped between two walls of bodies formed by the entire cast. Between such crowded moments, however, Wolves also allows for more poised, intimate scenes, such as a beautiful trio of women of various ages – a teenager, and two older women – where the youngest comes to terms with her forebears’ inheritance in an intermingling of bodies. In a creation revolving so much on the idea of togetherness and sharing, portés hold a central place, linking men and women, adults and children as they carry each other in inventive movements.
Having several generations on stage simultaneously is indeed one of the defining features of the production, enabling the performers to embody the diversity of the pack. The oldest cubs can’t be more than 8, and I see one of them smiling proudly at my neighbour, her mother, from the stage. Children crawl under the performers, as would cubs under she-wolves’ bellies. They run on all fours, growl, jump, exploring the gamut of animality, a sport in which the adults are also quick to indulge.
As you can tell, this is not exactly a wolfish crowd of bloodthirsty beasts. The performers wear natural, vegetal colours – hues of ochre, brown, green and autumnal reds. In lieu of meat, those wolves prey on apples. In the playful introductory scene, the performers pick apples from trees of children carried by adults, which they then use to create an organic melody of fruits, tapping feet, and breathing. We see dancer Hannah Vennet savagely protecting her stash of apples from the onslaught of a gang of wolf-children. Later, graceful Joanne Pirrie dodges the apple-projectiles thrown at her by a band of mischievous wolf adults.
The performance is particularly successful thanks to its live soundtrack. Mairi Campbell’s voice rises from a caressing murmur to a howl, from a strenuous whisper to a wail of rage. She is the spirit of the pack, acting at times as a tutelary presence or the high priestess of some pagan ritual.
I first discovered Barrowland Ballet with Whiteout two years ago. This is my first time seeing the company with a production of this size, and I am enthused by the result. This exploration of the facets of the life of the pack, which plays on archetypal and folkloric images of the wolf and fairy tales, is an achievement throughout.