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Goldberg Variations review at Barbican Theatre – ‘energetic and enjoyably odd’

Andersson Dance and Scottish Ensemble's Goldberg Variations. Photo: Hugh Carswell

To the trilling passages of Bach’s Variation No. 1 a dancer vigorously shakes his body, his limbs in ungainly positions.

Then the string ensemble begins to shimmy too. Before long the classical strains have become the accompaniment to a chaotic opening scene. It’s a moment of pure abandon.

This informal, light-hearted approach epitomises Scottish Ensemble and Andersson Dance’s collaboration, subtitled Ternary Patterns for Insomnia, a piece combining 11 musicians, five dancers and Bach’s 30 musical variations.

There are serious moments – soft, flowing choreography that melds seamlessly with the more melancholic sequences – but these are balanced by moments of silliness.

When the performers drag props, lights and multiple items of clothing on-stage they really let loose. Trousers are pulled over heads, body parts are slapped and prodded and one dancer pitches face down into a pile of yellow pillows.

As bizarre as this sounds, these quirky touches accentuate the music and its mood. The abstract approach is part of the beauty of this piece. Instead of insisting on one particular interpretation, it draws the attention to the details within each variation.

This is not a constantly engaging work, but its playful, even casual, approach is pleasingly lively. The willingness of the musicians to put down their instruments and get involved in the movement is equally pleasing.

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Verdict
Energetic, creative and enjoyably odd fusion of dance and classical music
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