Wayne McGregor – Autobiography

Autobiography was at the Edinburgh International Festival 11 – 13 Aug 2018.

An autobiography is an account of one’s own life but not usually the actual DNA. In Autobiography, Wayne McGregor the choreographer, has sampled the data from his genetic make-up and used this to organise the structure of his latest work. This multi award winning dancer, who incidentally worked on the Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire film, has a reputation for pushing the conceptual boundaries of his art into new directions, particularly with regard to science. Like the famous connection between Merce Cunningham and John Cage in the 1980s, McGregor utilises chance – the order of the sections in each performance is chosen by the computer keeping the piece alive.

Most of the soundtrack is by Jlin, long-time collaborator. Like the steps themselves, her electronic music uses a multitude of sources, sampling white noise, screeches, bells and whistles (actually) and found sound. Guantanamo has lyrics: “You don’t want to hurt anyone,” “But I do, and I’m sorry”. There are disco beats, techno pulses and, contrastingly, the Concerto Grosso in D Major from Arcangelo Corelli to which they strut and plump their chests, torsos concave one moment and convex the next, hands almost holding the sides of the head. It is the perfect companion to McGregor’s impersonal, repetitive movement.

Lighting, set and choreography are intrinsically connected. A section reminiscent of a torture chamber features the overhead ranks of pyramid-shaped strip lights lowered almost to the ground with just enough space for bodies to lie underneath, writhing. In the second half, there are very bright spots which shine beautiful strong beams through which the dancers move mesmerically.

There is not the same sense of cutting edge in the choreography. Much of it derives from classical ballet (McGregor has been resident choreographer at the Royal Ballet, since 2006) albeit mostly at high speed: spinning attitudes and extreme developes on the run, standing splits like herons on speed. Then there is yoga: a knee lifts into a standing half lotus, the rounded head of a partner slipping under its angle to lift the whole structure up, turn it and put it back down. Legs wide with knees deeply bent to the sides, lower arms circling, outward facing palms and finger mudras remind of Indian Classical Dance. The dancers double as gymnasts, excitably tumbling through one-handed cartwheels, forwards and backward rolls. There are pedestrian moves – cutting and ducking, rolling and leaping, run, walk, stop, start.

Wayne McGregor

Though the dancers touch and push, there is almost no sense of humanity, no identification sought or sympathy given. This is ironic given it was created from McGregor himself, his cellular patterns forming the underlying mesh on which the entire piece stands.

Gerda Stevenson – Quines

At the Edinburgh International Book Festival 12 Aug 2018. There is more in the Revolting Women series. Here is a link.

What an enthusiastic woman is Gerda Stevenson! Sitting alongside Herald journalist Jackie McGlone, she describes the inspiration for, selection process of, and reads from her new book Quines in the Writer’s Retreat at the Book Festival. Quines: meaning a lass; a woman; sounding like ‘queen’,thereby lending an “aristocracy of the spirit”.

McGlone’s eloquent introduction describes Stevenson as “A woman of a thousand skills”, she is an actress from the popular Shetland TV series, poet, writer, lecturer, singer and songwriter. Stevenson, in turn, describes the noble, reconstructed and ancient head of a young woman on the cover of her book: “…she could have been my daughter… Does history really separate us, or does it reveal how much we have in common?”

Gerda Stevenson

In her book (“it feels like their book” says Stevenson in that familiar way many women have of humbly attributing praise to others), she presents poems of deceased Scottish women such as Isabel Emslie Hutton, psychiatrist and doctor; Tessa Ransford, founder of the Scottish Poetry Library; Mina Ray, one of Scotland’s first interpreter trainers; and Betsy Miller, ship’s captain. Standing to deliver poems in Scots and English with an open countenance, she also includes work which honours the Gaelic, using its syntax and lilt.

In the course of her research she unearthed women from all walks of life, an all-female football team, and many fascinating women from Dundee. She gives them a voice, manages to get inside them: in Demerara a slave girl from the plantations brought to “the Black Isle of white people”, she writes. “her spine stiffened in her corset when I declined the sugar.”; and after her twins were stillborn, Mary Stuart’s (Queen of Scots) voice tells us, “tho milk’s ae buckin frae ma breists unner ma lace an steys”.

In a relaxed and sisterly way she laughs with McGlone, sharing personal information: “I’m a Hibs supporter”, and “I’m very interested in Robert Owen’s Utopian thinking”. She is also serious about slavery (tackling it, for example, in Terpsichore about Maud Sulter, “I’m your morning’s sport, a clandestine delight, …. but I’m only marking time; one day ….you’ll be dancing to another’s tune.”  Most of the information Stevenson gives us is in the introduction of the book, but she brings it alive with her erudite charm.

book festival

For other women’s literature events, see also the Revolting Women theme at the Edinburgh International Book festival

This year’s Thomas Muir Memorial Lecture will be given by Gerda Stevenson. Details here.

Graphic Novel of Women – Book Festival

At the Edinburgh International Book festival August 11 2018. There are other events in the Revolting Women series – here is the link

We Shall Fight Until We Win’, A Century of Pioneering Political Women, the Graphic Anthology is at the centre of the Book festival event on 11 August 2018, which looks at the Graphic Novel of Women. Representatives from both Glasgow based BHP Comics and 404 Ink join Chair, Jenny Niven who is Literature Director at Creative Scotland, to discuss this newest disruption in contemporary publishing and the place of this book in the oeuvre of women’s non-fiction. The micro-comic art book publishing and the graphic novel sector are also discussed.

Asking about the genesis of this “slim but powerful volume”, Niven encourages Laura Jones, co-founder of 404 and contributing writer of the Nicola Sturgeon strip, to expand on the way it was crowdfunded through a Kickstarter project, and she stresses the impressively short timescale (nine months) in which they turned it around.

Graphic novel of Women

Heather Palmer, marketing and PR Officer at BHP Comics talks about the potential of the volume to make social change and how it gets women into publishing for the first time. “The great thing with visual work like this is that it is a sort of shorthand” describing how the setting and clothes for example do not need to be spelled out and are therefore easily accessible to school children, which is why it has been directed at schools as well as the general public. Heather mentions that “women are buying it for when their daughters grow up”.

Ever since the Stripped theme began in 2014, graphic novels have been “a really important, joyful part of the festival” Roland Gulliver, Associate Director of the International Book Festival who grew up with 2000 AD and Spiderman, told me. “There is an enthusiasm in the publishing sector”, he went on, “they love being part of an International literary event like this, not being ghettoised”.

book festival themes

This is not a superhero book, no spandex, so sorry about that” says Sha Nazir, art director at BHP Comics, but the women collected here (Emmeline Pankhurst, Beatrice Webb, Noor Inayat Khan, Betty Boothroyd et al) may well become superheros for the next generations as a result of this book.

See also, the Revolting Women series at the Book Festival.

Janice Galloway on Muriel Spark

Photo: Muriel Spark, writer. 1918 – 2006.

At the Edinburgh International Book Festival 11th August 2018. There are many other events in the Muriel Spark theme at the Book Festival this year. Here is the link.

Muriel Spark is one of the Book Festival’s 2018 themes. This most entertaining event is chaired by Jenny Niven, Head of Literature at Creative Scotland, and it is Janice Galloway who gives forth on the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. A tour de force, Galloway is a consummate performer, delighting us with cockney accents, flamboyant quotes and well-timed biographical info. ‘You made the right choice!’ Niven tells us in her introduction. Galloway’s first novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing, was published in 1989 and followed by more stories, libretti, non-fiction, poetry – you name it.

Not just amusing, but also a veritable wealth of knowledge on the subject, Galloway arrives with a great grin and only a little nervous knee wobbling. This is the centenary year of Mrs Spark, as Ms Galloway refers to her, and it has ignited divers projects around the world notably here in Spark’s home city. Galloway is lecturing, workshopping and producing her own work in response: “delving deep” as Niven put it.

Looking into the audience with penetrating gaze, Galloway elucidated Spark’s life: born in 1918, she only started writing when 40, after a lively time as wife to Syney Oswald Spark (“the only thing she liked about him was his name”). In ‘Rhodesia’ he threatened to shoot her (many of her short stories are about such goings on amongst the ex-pat community) and she hid herself and her son for 4 years before she could return to “old blighty” in 1944. This prompted her to develop an ‘it was for the best’ attitude, stressed Galloway, in her fast but exceptionally clear delivery.

Janice Galloway


Spark, she continues, changed what was expected from women’s writing, coming at it from a female point of view, in a common sense “no horsing about” kind of a way and signalling that, contrary to the fiction which previously had been published, women could write about anything.

Galloway’s gift is a reading from The Ballad of Peckham Rye bringing the characters to life with slow circular sweeps of her arm and perfect London accents. “The guests in the pews rustled as if they were all women”, she reads. It is an absolutely beautiful rendering.

She discusses Jean Brodie of course, gives advice on writing, and more. With a single finger held up to emphasise her words, she tells us that there was “no bigwiggery” about Muriel Spark.

book festival

Warmed Air – site-specific performance

Warmed Air 10 Aug 3pm Anatomical Museum, Teviot Place

Warmed Air is a site-specific combination of dance and the arts which takes place in the Anatomical Museum in Edinburgh. The title refers to exhaled breath, warmer after the exchange of gases inside the lungs. It is an original idea and realised collaboratively and inclusively: Ruth Pollitt, who “likes old things” is the museum’s curator and plays the shawm (a sort of medieval oboe) in the show. Simon Anderson initiated the project with his interest in Antonin Artaud, somatic movement and psychophysical performance.

We are led into the Lecture Theatre where the sound of deep breathing fills the space as we sit up high looking down onto the podium. Here a specialist delivers a lecture about Indian sun gods, Maes Howe , e=mc2 and the science of the fixed firmament which unfortunately we cannot hear in its entirety. The dancers, dressed in yellow and red, pose arabesques, crawl and scramble over seats, dangerously perch, and pivot, cranium on wood.

The second section involves a tour into the museum itself, briefly hovering in front of Paul Michael Henry, situated between dinosaur skeletons, a living specimen behind a sheet of glass. This performer has a mannered intensity.

anatomical musem 3

Thirdly, we move to a room full of display cases: bones, skulls (including a cast of Rabbie Burns exhumed for burial by his wife), and a body preserved in 1788 with flesh and sex organs. Here the four dancers alternate in presenting their solos, presumably their own personal responses to the general themes: writer and artist Laura Gonzalez with her neat feet – I liked her phrase ‘your soft architecture’); part-time lecturer at the Royal Conservatoire, Laura Bradshaw’s bone movement, sensual hand wringing and found words); and a misguided rewrite of The Cruel Mother.

There is so much material here, fascinating ideas seeking connections between disciplines. Like some conceptual art, it is intriguing on the page, but so far the ideas are more interesting than the exposition; the physical and verbal improvisation is too ambitious for the performers’ skills. There is great possibility however it is in need of tight direction, an outside eye which can contain the myriad influences and focus it. On a basic level someone is needed to stand in the audience and see if they can hear or see; on an artistic level to draw the strands together, eliminating the personal favourites if they don’t work for the good of the piece, thereby creating a coherent whole.

Overall this show uses a very wide range of fascinating ideas and seeks connections between disciplines, painting and dance for example. There is great possibility here but it is in need of tight direction, an outside eye which can contain the myriad influences and focus it. On a basic level someone is needed to stand in the audience and see if they can hear or see; on an artistic level to draw the strands together, eliminating the personal favourites if they don’t work for the good of the piece thereby creating a coherent whole.




Heads Up showcase, Dance Base

Aiming to give us a ‘heads up’ regarding new and upcoming young dance talent, “high quality dance diversions….fresh ideas…new and exciting”, this showcase offers five pieces of work that all need development before they move into the professional arena. If it was a programme of self-promoted choreographers, it would fit well into the Fringe programme, however, this was curated and the artists were invited, so the bar has been set higher.

Though two wobble or preen, the dancers are obviously well trained and perform with focus. Emma Snellgrove and Stefania Catarinella in particular move smoothly, with ease and proficiency. Overall, the production and some of the costumes are simple but effective, especially the spotlight in Cabbages and Queens by Jay Yule, one of the more noteworthy.

There are attractive aspects to each piece: In Dis-Connected the costume and initial pose are eye catching and poised; Claricia Parinussa in Untitled (Labyrinth) has a confident stage presence looking for a new language merging body popping and contemporary; Snellgrove and Catarinella duet with a lithe grace, and the spoken word delivery is bold; and if you know your Lewis Carroll, you will recognise all sort of references in Cabbages and these jumping off points are the most integrated and interesting.

Claricia heads up
Claricia Parinussa

The choreography consists, in the main, of steps learned from teachers in class. To find originality, these budding dance makers must start with their own instinctual, honest reactions to music / text / feelings, and find the new ideas from there. The danger of reproducing others’ styles, though ideal to learn this way in college, is that the movements do not connect to the themes expressed in the programme, they do not emanate from a true inner place. There was no evidence that an individual relationship was made with, for example, the poem used in When Time Stood Still or the dramaturgy in Go / Labyrinth (Untitled).

Most emerging companies / soloists cannot afford a director, but it is hoped that mentoring, if on offer from Dance Base, would inspire these talented dancers to immerse themselves in their source material and discover choreography which is identifiable as their own, after all they have now graduated and are working professionally.

11 Aug 12.45 Second Showcase with different contributors.

L-E-V Dance Company- Love Cycle

L-E-V Dance Company, Love Cycle: OCD Love and Love Chapter 2. 9-11 Aug 2018 20.00 hrs.

These two 55-minute shows performed on consecutive nights by the Israeli L-E-V Dance Company are pure contemporary dance, as pure as it gets: five dancers, minimal lighting, an almost constantly berating soundtrack from the tick – tick of the opening to the relentless techno rhythms of the rest; and bare movement. In OCD, the performers enter one by one unobtrusively from corners or between curtains, limbs picked out of the shadows by dull light, and begin their desperate, compulsive movements. In Chapter 2, all five are onstage continuously and the dance language is almost identical with the score and repetition building to an infernal pace with no end in sight.

OCD Love is more OCD than love and you won’t necessarily get either unless you read about it first. Once you do know, it definitely is obsessive. Sharon Eyal’s choreography is highly original. Her deeply personal identification with Neil Hilborn’s poem, OCD, has resulted in an intense, strung-out and internal set of motifs which are, of course, repeated. In the same way that this ultimately destructive behaviour is an external sign of something desperate happening inside, so it is well nigh impossible to empathise. One watches with a sort of horror, but does not kinaesthetically participate in it. The audience’s initial confusion and lack of understanding may well be a reflection of the sufferers themselves being unconsciously controlled and driven.


The choreographic impetus for both pieces is at the centre (as you would expect from Eyal’s formative association with Martha Graham) and the torso is racked with convulsions, shudders and twitches. The endless arms and legs octopus-wave sequentially from there, then nudge with jagged elbows, sink deep with knees angular, or keep the impossibly persistent beat of soft steps. Each body is taut with tension, especially the shoulders, and the backbends are excruciating, with hands that reach so far behind, you wonder that they belong at all.

Fingers grasp and pull back the head of another, mimetic palms claw own breast and abdomen, hips jut suggestively in frequently bird-like trajectories around the stage. Very occasionally there is a breathless hiaitus, and once there is a terrible crash on drums and with fist and the audience shocks. Perhaps there is a slight tenderness between two, more likely there are empty arms where a partner should be – these beings are locked into themselves.

The performances are 100% solid, impossible to fault, which is almost unheard of. Without doubt they are drilled and dedicated. The long-standing collaboration between Eyal and composer Ori Lichtik’s grand score is perfect, and the watchers’ final cheers were surely a response to the sheer quality of the work.