Roberta Jean – Edinburgh Fringe dance

At City Chambers, Edinburgh Royal Mile, 16 – 17 Aug 2018.

The setting of Edinburgh’s City Chambers is an unusual one for a contemporary dance show. Brocade by Roberta Jean is part of the Made in Scotland showcase and the Dance Base programme, and she and her three dancers challenge us with their “loom of movement glosses that, when woven, makes a numinous tissue”-  in the words of the programme.

The broad rectangular performance area has audience on the two long sides. At one end is the window overlooking St Giles Cathedral and the lights of the clock tower comes on in the gloaming as the house lights dim.

St Giles

Standing with their backs to us, clad in black shorts, baggy T shirts and matching knee-length socks (as in L-E-V Dance Company’s Love Cycle), one woman starts a jump-skip, a regular rhythmic and simple step. One by one the others join in and they allow their labouring breath to be audible and their facial expressions to be naturalistic as they slowly turn while doing it.

In unison, they continue. Vertically they pound the floor like human pneumatic drills, creating their own soundtrack with foot-percussion, arms and torsos relaxed and still as in Irish dance, so they carry on for the majority of the piece. This pedestrian movement, and the few motifs in which the feet or hands have minds of their own leading the rest of the body a merry dance, is reminiscent of Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown at the Judson Church and New York lofts of the 1960s. (Rainer said that her work “sometimes takes the form of a disorientated body in which one part doesn’t know what the other part is doing.”)

Sometimes they zig zag, sometimes they smile. One peels off and dances behind the audience. They could be stitching an enormous embroidery, stopping every now and then to make a knot, bouncing on in their patterns, never stopping despite the sweat caused by the neverending pace.

Roberta Jean

The repetition allows us to relax as we watch and notice the subtle alterations – facing north-north-east not north-east for example. There are distinctions between them: one drops slightly more heavily than the next; a second holds her hand at nose- rather than mouth-level. Is it in this idiosyncracy that the message lies? Is it that however hard we try to keep on doing what is expected, to ‘repeat after me’, to ‘toe the line’, we are all human and have our own personalities?

 

Folding Echoes – Edinburgh Fringe dance

At Dance Base, Grassmarket, Edinburgh. 16 – 19 and 21 – 26 Aug 2018.

Grassmarket
The Grassmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland

Folding Echoes might be a response to some people’s questions about contemporary dance – what does it all mean? In the first few minutes, Joseph Lee bangs his head on a chair. Then he sticks it in the door! These simple moves tell of serious frustration, perhaps with the audience for asking this question, or perhaps with the more impenetrable aspects of the genre itself.

Born in Hong Kong and a trained accountant, Lee undertook a masters at the renowned London Contemporary Dance School (The Place) in London and has toured and won awards around the world. Lee manages that rare thing: to be serious and to poke fun at his subject in one show.

Many of the amusements are in the script. He starts by addressing the audience as if giving an after-performance talk about what he’d just done, but he also deconstructs movement phrases which mean ‘love’ and ‘hate’. Using ultra clear gesture he goes on to develop these moves, adeptly demonstrating how some choreographers initiate dance.

What follows is a duet with a chair and, later, a pair of shiny red stilettos: “Of course dance can address some contemporary problem or issue. One of them is gender” he says. We laugh again. This cannot be other than a reference to the macabre Hans Christian Anderson tale and film of the same name in which a vain girl is punished by shoes which never stop dancing even when her feet in them are amputated. He seems

Occassionally there is a hint of the ‘101 things to do with a prop’ exercise; and as with many choreographers  presenting at the Festival this year, he uses extreme repetition, angst, manic shuddering, and painful falls (ow! I felt that) as knees strike dance floor. However, he performs much of this with irony, and, cleverly, we don’t always know which side of that line he has stepped over.

When he suddenly rushes offstage through the emergency exit, leaving only a slant of bright behind him (he plays with light very effectively throughout the show), our attention is drawn to the paraphernalia of the theatre that we usually pretend isn’t there. And so we are left with interesting questions about the nature of performance, the art of making dance, the relationship between the audience and who we watch. We are in admiration, and we are smiling because he simultaneously achieves this and sends himself up: “bullshit, bullshit” he says.

WRoNGHEADED – contemporary dance review

Contemporary Dance Show Review: WRoNGHEADED by Liz Roche Company.

Aug 5, 7-12, 14-19 Dance Base, Edinburgh Fringe 2018.

WRoNGHEADED opens with beautiful images: Mary Wycherley’s film of natural landscape – iceberg, water – glides into our vision before we see any dancers (it has featured in dance film festivals around the world and won an award in Kerry in 2017). Set to Elaine Feeney’s fierce poetry, the environment is swirly and sleepy in atmosphere. An elegiac lace-clad wood nymph drifts, contrasting with the glistening, jaggedy rockface; it’s a near-monochrome palette.

A single dancer slides on from a downstage corner, back arching, arm curving over, quiet as if on snow, not disturbing, not attracting attention. Electronic music now. We recognise the woman from the film become concrete, in the breath and shadow. There is an air of seriousness.

Liz Roche Company are currently in residence at the Dublin Festival and Roche herself is an experienced choreographer. Created in 2016, it sought to “highlight the frustration that many women feel in relation to the choices that have been available to them around their bodies in Ireland”, so it is indeed serious. Happily, some monumental changes have taken place since then, but there is still a way to go obviously.

For a time, the two women share the space but do not touch. With shoulders hunched, they slip and slide in slow motion, they roll, explore, suspend. One reaches with her chest. A breast is almost touched. Later hands are thrust between thighs; fingers are splayed; sudden sinewy ripples rack the torso and there’s an abrupt change of direction. Then it starts to change: angled arms, a knee crossed over a taut leg and they join. In a Contact Improvisation-based duet, any spaces between the dancers is highly charged. They react off each other, brush against, spring away from, only to return to the crook of a knee or armpit. After a struggle one lands on top of the other, a dead weight, and it takes some wriggling for the other to extricate herself.

The poem is complex, and only snippets come through when the focus is on the action: “Sorry, sorry”, “I’m in debt to you for giving me air to live”, “Nonononono”. Attention is necessarily split between the movement language and the words. The choreographer has mined the poem for ideas, so is it necessary to use it in its entirety? Its quality and that of the steps are imbalanced: one thought provoking and direct; the other sensual and atmospheric, dreamlike. Ultimately this is the type of contemporary dance which is dense and speaks to the initiated. It is not easily accessible, but aficionados will be impressed.

wrongheaded

It’s Not Over Yet… / How to Survive the Future

Double Bill It’s Not Over Yet… by Emma Jayne Parks / Cultured Mongrel; and How to Survive the Future by Tess Letham. Both at Dance Base Aug 5, 7-12 at 15.20 hrs.

Anatomy_Finest-Cuts_Cultured-Mongrel_70-uai-516x344

Severe trauma is the theme of both solos in this double bill of Scottish choreographer/dancers at Dance Base in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. Both employ humour despite their serious subjects: Cancer (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) in Emma Jayne Park’s It’s Not Over Yet…, and something less clear, probably relationship break-up, in Tess Letham’s How to Survive the Future. The former a 5 star and the latter a 3.

Letham performs her inaugural show with dedication and intensity. With a strong stage presence, she presents vignettes, often ironically, as she moves through the various stages of suffering and survival. She uses a lot of mime as if she fears her movement will not tell the story adequately. Making broad use of the stage and varying her speed, she employs a wide range of movement and yet there is a similarity of choreographic tone throughout.

Tess Letham

Set on a beach with a good range of costume changes, two wigs and two hairstyles, her work is attractive to view and most dramatic in intensity. Though fully committed – she throws herself onto the floor with the painful sound of knees on wood, she contorts and writhes with movement that should convey sorrow and hurt – it does not involve on a visceral level. It has not yet developed into a mature piece.

It’s Not Over Yet from Park’s (working under the creative handle Cultured Mongrel and with a fellowship to her name), is another thing entirely – this is a very strong, deep and well-balanced work. The raw emotion is inherent throughout in the long arms reaching and encircling the neck, the chin lifting while the throat stretches, the twisting and the sinking of the solar plexus. Almost entirely performed sitting on a chair, Park utilises a motif of hand wringing, wrist twisting movements which are complex enough to be repeated over and over, encapsulating the awful repetition of chemo treatments, sustaining our interest. This is compelling and we pay close attention to detail, as does she in her mindful performance.

Grimaces and grins are fleeting yet connect immediately with the audience. There is no self-pity here, neither yawn-making exposition of what it is like to have the big c. Yes, all the terrible symptoms (hair loss, sickness) are there, the endless ‘how are you’s and ‘are you better now’s of well-meaning friends and hospital staff are there, but they are conveyed with originality and intense mindfulness of performance.

Beware the sweeties! What you dread to see as you watch that brilliant section unfold, does.

Tess Letham 2

 

 

The Spinners – Contemporary Dance

The Spinners, Dance Base Edinburgh Fringe. 3 – 19 August (not Mondays). 16.45. Adult.

The Spinners is a most unusual dance work: futuristic with ancient undertones; incredibly fast-paced as well as thoughtful; it’s a highly original blend of storytelling and pure dance. It uses an old tale in such a way that it speaks to us 21st century folk, makes comment on contemporary themes as all good art should – no preaching, no clunkiness.

In this Australia meets Scotland three-hander by Limosani Projekts and Al Seed Productions, the women and set are sombrely dressed in grey tones and it’s the accomplished lighting which transforms this base line with washes of electric blue, sci-fi green and blood (scarlet) red.

3 fates
The Three Fates – Greek mythology

This piece is rich in mythological imagery and deep in movement source material. From the goddess Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance, to the martial arts to Bharatanatyam Classical Indian dance with hints of Louise Bourgeois’ spider women, it is an inventive re-working of the Greek Three Fates who ‘spin the threads of human destiny’. With palms upturned, elbows bent at right angles, and arms deftly interlinked, the women line up, switch positions, interchange and weave themselves in endlessly interesting and dynamic friezes.

Threads are pulled and stretched, woven and tied to create tasselled figures which are hung on strings around three sides of the stage. This is all done through dance, not for a minute does the choreography cease. Representing androgynous figures of various hues, they are made and re-made, sacrificed and re-born.

the spinners 2
Louise Bourgeois as inspiration?

Between the frenzied lunges, the quizzical stares and determined gazes, are still points where one dancer watches, one rests and the third consults a burnished oil drum of a console-cum-oracle which doubles as cauldron (Macbeth’s as many witches?) and womb.

The complex vocabulary is thankfully often repeated allowing us the chance to re-watch, to become reacquainted with the subtleties and intricacies of the interlocking bodies as they hastily group and re-group, hesitating for a suspended moment to breathe collective life into their puppets with fronded fingers – each a wondrous moment.

After maybe 30 minutes, the rushing around starts to tire a little, the on-going dullness of light, and seeming repetition occasionally results in a sort of heaviness, but this does not detract from the choreographic artistry. There is a section where one character appears to go a little wild, choosing a white doll instead of a grey, then apparently sacrificing herself when thwarted, before being pulled out by the others and reunited. It was unclear what exactly was taking place.

In this show there is a combination of recognised steps and gestures entwined in a new and inspiring form. The Spinners is simulating and thought-provoking.

 

Stick By Me

Stick By Me, Andy Manley, Ian Cameron and Red Bridge Arts, Scotland. Dance Base. 3 – 26 August 2018 (not Mondays). Children’s dance theatre.

Charming, delightful, inventive. These are the words that come to mind on watching Stick by Me, a dance show for 3 – 6 year olds created by Ian Cameron and Andy Manley who previously came up with White which won a Fringe First and other accolades in 2010.

One man-child is dressed in a neat blue jacket with his shirt buttoned right up to the throat. He sits in the middle of a pale blue dance lino, the edges of which delineate his space and out of which he is not allowed to step (very cleverly done – you’ll have to see the show to find out how!).

In his playroom, he has minimal props: a school table and a chair from the infant’s classroom, countless rolls of tape, a cardboard box and an orb of see-through plastic. Like all youngsters he can create fantasies from the simplest things, using what he finds around him, and mostly that’s wooden lolly sticks. Inventive and unpredictable, the stories he plays with them and they with him are the stuff of innocent imagination.

The soundtrack is immensely important – directing our feelings, giving voice to the sticks, moving us through myriad emotions. The easy piano and percussion, the electronic soundscape of kisses and farts is an intrinsic part of the show, like his mind-music, like a non-verbal version of himself.

Initially, Andy Manley utilises mime and facial expression in particular, with subtle, simple movements of a single finger. As the show progresses, he fills the stage with modest movement: guileless walking, unsophisticated running. He is agile, not by any means looking like a traditional dancer, always focused, embodying the kid within. On and off the chair he climbs, corner to corner he capers until, close to the end, he dances a smooth solo, looping and folding, light in his centre, a gentle sort of joy.

stick by me 2
Alan Manley – man-child

The audience is with him throughout, experiencing his disappointments, buoyed up with his exaltation, relishing his discoveries, and when he exits we are sad to see him go and we want him to come back so we can keep on playing together.

Suitable for children 3-6 years old.

Four Go Wild in Wellies

Four Go Wild in Wellies, Indepen-dance is at Dance Base 3 – 26 August (not Mondays), 14.10. 3+ years.

Four orange pop-up tents sit on the stage while the audience waits for Four Go Wild in Wellies to start. We can count the wellies lined up at the front of the stage and a sprinkling of leaves sets the Autumn scene. The piles of clothes remind me of that race where you have to get dressed, putting on more and more as you run it. There is not a performer in sight.

Then the music starts – a plucking of strings, a flute -and a tent shivers. The opening section is a dance but not as you know it. It is original and amusing, neatly timed and immediately engaging. Part by part, the bodies emerge until the four performers are before us in their pants, vests and socks.

This is Indepen-dance, an inclusive company for disabled and non-disabled people who all participate fully and dance skilfully. Directed by Anna Newell (the 2017 Tonic Award winner for ‘women who are changing the face of theatre’), with trills of music composed by David Goodall  who has also won awards, cheerful designs by Brian Hartley and choreographed by Stevie Prickett, this company tours and gives fully inclusive workshops around the world.

A tale of friendships made and broken, Four Go Wild addresses a universal theme in a familiar way. The dancers move fluidly, their movements are bright and likeable. The dance language has been found from the emotions and relationships which are being portrayed and the unsophisticated meaning comes clearly through the lively leaps, pushes and pulls, with the gumboot dance happily reminiscent of the South African counterpart. There is nothing subtle about the use of mime and over-exaggerated facial expressions which match the primary colours of the woolly hats.

Four Go Wild

The choreographic high point is the ‘sad duet’. It begins with a sinking in his torso, a drooping of his chin and develops into apt falls which are interrupted by a fellow dancer placing her body in the way. Repeatedly he drops forward, side, back, and as she catches him in different ways, he is supported and eventually cheered up. It is more inventive and understated than the rest, more effective as a result.