Published in the Guardian
Theatre Royal, Glasgow
The Scotland of August Bournonville's La Sylphide is all low mist, tartan drapes and lonely mountain backdrops. It owes a debt to the romantic vision of Sir Walter Scott, takes character names from The Heart of Midlothian and epitomises the 19th-century yearning for back-to-nature mysticism.
There's no shortage of tartan in Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling either, but the Scotland we find here in this modern-day reworking of La Sylphide is one of high-rise flats, pill-popping nightclubs and the Krankies. The tartan spread over walls and costumes by designer Lez Brotherston is kitsch and ironic.
This is why the show has been dubbed Trainspotting: the Ballet. That's overstating the case. It's more Sharks and Jets than Sick Boy and Begbie, but there's no denying it's a grittier telling of this story about the perils of falling in love with an otherworldly sprite when you could be settling down for a quiet life with your fiancée.
Bourne, with the cool perspective of a 21st-century cynic, even makes us question the reality of Sophie Martin's Sylph. When first she appears to Christopher Harrison's James, as she wafts over the gents urinals in the Highland Fling social club, she seems likely to be a hallucination brought on by the stag-night drugs he's been taking.
Like her fellow sylphs, she is grubby and a little sinister; more like a resident of a landfill site than an ethereal Highland spirit. She could still be an illusion the next day when, bleary-eyed and hung over, he sees her again and begins his fateful obsession.
With Bournonville's witch (danced by Brenda Lee Grech) now a drug-dealing tarot reader who pushes James away from Katie Webb's wholesome Effie, this is a version that sets the supernatural in a world which, for all its cartoon tartanalia, is recognisably ours. By juxtaposing Donald Whur's Yer Troosers, Auld Lang Syne and Lerner Alan Jay's Once in the Highlands with the relentlessly chirpy score by Herman Severin Løvenskjold, Bourne disrupts whatever pull towards romanticism remains.
The work was last revived in 2005 by Bourne's New Adventures; this Scottish Ballet production is the first time he has given a full-length piece to another company. Choreographically, it's as likely to embrace the bump'n'grind of the disco and the partner-swapping formations of the ceilidh as anything Bournonville would have recognised. It's at its weakest when Bourne's drive for clear storytelling results in bluntly signalled silent-movie gestures (the talkies caught on for a reason) and at its strongest in the ensemble pieces of the second half. It's a middle-brow pleasure, but the sense of fun is infectious.
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, until 4 May, 0844 871 7647, on tour until 25 May. Details: www.scottishballet.co.uk