Ballet is synonymous with beauty, romance and classic love stories but not in the world of Sir Matthew Bourne, who challenges these conceptions and pushes the boundaries with his artistic productions time after time. Highland Fling, created in 1994, is no different, melding innovative choreography with humorous interludes and memorable settings, to create ballets audiences will remember long after they have left the theatre.

Highland Fling is based on the very first major romantic ballet, Les Sylphides, but is given a Bourne trademark modern-twist opening in a dingy nightclub in Glasgow, rather than the romantic Highland mountain setting of its original, before following James (Christopher Harrison) as he struggles with the after effects of a night of drugs and alcohol. Jumping from his flat window, he falls into a world where nothing is as it seems, and falls in love with a Sylph who he tries to take back with him to the land of the living.

Sophie Martin is engaging and playful as the sylph who steals James’s heart, and dances with a lightness of touch that makes her fairy-like appearance even more believable. The ensemble cast in Act 2 are also a triumph as ‘Les Sylphides’, portraying every emotion of the choreography from the ghostly and eerie, to the playful and comedic.

At times, it is more theatrical than balletic—particularly in the opening scenes, where highlights include a hilarious gin-swilling granny, and some well-placed stereotypical Scottish props. It is also nice to see Bourne work some adapted traditional Scottish steps from both Highland and country dance styles into the choreography, in keeping with the title of the piece.

Highland Fling is billed as ‘A Romatic Wee Ballet’, yet, there is little romance in the adulterous flirting in Act 1, or in the tragedy that strikes in Act 2. It does, though, have a quirkiness and unique style that will make this a production which lasts long in the memories of all who see it, as it takes to the road and heads north to thrill audiences in the Highlands and Islands.


Photos: Kenny Mathieson