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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.