Void – theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe

A MHz and V/DA collaboration in association with Feral at Summerhall, Edinburgh 18 – 19 Aug and 21 – 26 Aug 2018. 5 stars.

The short, intense theatre show which is Void at Summerhall, based on J G Ballard’s Concrete Island, is a painful dance solo indistinguishable from a sound and lightscape in a theatre space that is a place inside our minds as well as just outside our awareness. It makes us reflect on just what exactly we have made of our world.

Another of the quality shows in the Made in Scotland series, the set is part grotty under-the-motorway corner, part Guantanamo Bay bleak, part metaphor for a closed place we cannot escape from in which we are tortured, mostly unnoticing, perhaps of our own making. Mele Broomes, performer and choreographer, is tossed \ catapulted into it like a body thrown from a car in the midst of a crash, or a prisoner pushed into a cell. We are that body, we can’t see the cameras, we are watching and being watched in our agony.

With three of the walls absent, this self-enforced prison, designed by MHz, is somewhere we simultaneously seek to escape from and voluntarily remain in. Despite there being only a back wall to the stage, it is as if we are seeing through into a four walled enclosure.

The soundtrack is either electronically produced or real noise sampled and manipulated. It mimics and creates the extreme din which we put up with on a day-to-day basis, which we have all conspired to create and with which we surround ourselves; that external tinnitus to our internal commotion and unease.

The set and lighting fulfil the same function of producing the theatrical environment. One of those fences whose wires create diamond shapes, is bordered by more metal to keep it taut and in place, with a grimy curtain behind and projections flittering across it. Otherwise there is a pale dance floor. That’s all. Except it isn’t because we readily furnish it with the detritus and mess we have come to expect at the end of the block, the space between buildings or littering wasteland.

Reminiscent of the end of the film reel when you can see the bits caught in the lightstream of the projector, or where the heat of the screen has attracted dust which messes up the white; the art work provides the next layer. It is a series of projections: fast-moving fluorescence of radiation made visual, X-ray intensity, complexity of colour and movement almost entirely unrepresentational. And yet it is suggestive of the natural surroundings which seem to be absent, for which there is no room – of moonlight between branches, sun spots at midday.

Really it is entirely urban and manmade – the lights of cars passing, of screens flickering, searchlights, floodlights, and interrogative illumination creating a setting where the human is captured and can never retire or halt.

The figure in the midst of all this is definitely a ‘she’. We know that after a while because of the lipstick, pencil skirt and stilettos, and sadly also because of the way she is pushed around. Ditto that she is black. Actually there is no-one else present in her immediate space to do the pushing, but she is ‘manhandled’ just the same. And we are just outside it, we watch it happen and don’t intercede. We would be the passers-by who balk at the smell, or nod disapproval, wonder what the world has come to and get away from as soon as we can.

Boy does she move! She seems at first to be dead but reaches into life, struggling, stretching, ankles disjointed, fingers clawing. Plastic, gymnastic, she cartwheels and backflips effortlessly, silently. She climbs the fence, raggedly, to escape, using her high heels to hook onto, and falls repeatedly. That elastic back of hers, arches. Broomes is elegant, stiff; undulating, and jagged. The face is shut off, is tense, is staring, is scared by turns.

Vid

Hers is intelligent choreography informed of its own history (Martha Graham’s renowned Lamentation for example) and devoid of pretentiousness or self-sonsciousness. Several times she is a lumpy, amorphous, androgynous heap of human, an inhuman. Three-dimensional in parka or bin liner with no identifiable body parts, she is unable to accept rest despite the exhaustion and desperation, almost always moving, moving.

Here we are, we have chosen to enter this theatre where we are forced to endure the racket we have produced ‘in the outside world’, the noise that is the result of the engines we have created to rush us from place to place, to do jobs for us so we can get more achieved. And more.

Here we are inside our imaginations, immersed, unable to avoid the imaginary place which is Void, full of din and empty of quiet.  We wonder why we cannot settle our minds, sitting still in meditation, slipping away into nature for a moment. Here is our answer.

We are faced with the conundrum – did we manifest this state of things as a mirror to ourselves, the clamour in our heads, or is that internal uproar a result of what we have created around us?

This is the stuff of sci-fi you might say, except like all good work of this genre, it encapsulates our now. Never ever quiet, never ever dark for more than a millisecond, the constancy of our modern world’s busyness, the 24/7 of our machines at work are here. At one and the same time the rushing, pounding, white-noise inside our collective head; and the external racket, a result of the man-made motors with which we fill our world, assaults us in the theatre.

Thank goodness it is short. Not because we wouldn’t relish spending more time watching the dance or mesmerised by the projections, but it would simply be too much. It is just loud enough to jolt us into recognition of reality.

This is a piece which in its immediate simplicity allows us to absorb the multi-dimensional and metaphorical layers on which it comments.

 

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.

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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.

 

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.

 

The Just Festival, Edinburgh

Just Festival St John’s Church, Edinburgh.

3-26 Aug 2018

Age and Stage
Age and Stage, Just Festival theatre, Edinburgh.

At a time when I hear so many people worrying over the future and being anxious about the lack of care they see around them, I welcome the annual socially-conscious Just Festival. On their classy website, they state that they are “in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, celebrating humanity in all its differences, and promoting the exploration of new perspectives with the aim of reducing religious, political and social intolerance.” This is a tall order but a mighty refreshing one.

The festival is divided and formed into sections: performance (dance, theatre, music), visual arts, conversations, talks, storytelling and a view (includes a short film) are all encompassed in this programme which hopes to challenge perceptions, celebrate differences and promote respectful dialogue, both religious and non-religious.

Just has made impressive alliances with recognised charities, universities, social groups and community projects which add specialist knowledge, depth and cudos to their events. In the conversations it is notable that there are experts, academics as well as artists on the panels, promising a well-rounded approach.

The honest shape of our communities, where many people do not have the type of contact with others which they desire, is tackled across the genres: Inner Circle, one of these conversations focuses on the LGBTQ population; Trapped in Isolation and Connected Lives, in the theatre category, look at loneliness and the complex reasons why folk may feel alone and ostracised. Let It Art, in the visual art camp, shows the work of youngsters in response to how they view peace, conflict, terrorism, and violence; and Identity and Belonging uses storytelling and photographs expressing individuality in the light of ageing.

The stated aim of tackling “freedom towards a united world” shows itself in Mandela’s Legacy (100 years after his death the panel ask what can be learned from his work and influence), Brexit Means Anxiety, and Faith In Politics. Closely related is the international connection: Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona’s play The Island examines “the situation of black political prisioners”; Sounds from Gold Coast will no doubt bring exuberance and joy to the hall at St John’s using rhythm, harmony and dance; and We Are will be “bouncing off their own ethnic roots” and, “Inspired by, and dedicated to, the women of Ghana, West Africa, who gather under the full moon, they tell stories of sorrow and joy.”

There is a sense of genuine self-questioning and fresh topics of conversation with Slaves In Scotland, Ethics of Aid and in the theatre section with Where Are You Really From? looking at migration and asylum.

It is clear that here has been impressive attention paid to the balance between the sexes throughout the planning stage (see Faith-based Courts for example); and Fierce Females (a view which includes a film), Every Girl Matters (conversation), and Take Refuge Under My Shade (dance) all contribute to equal representation.

There is a most promising sub-section entitled Death on the Fringe. Death is a subject about which we have been famously silent in the west, that is until the last few years when the rise of the Death Cafes (started in Fife btw) and the preponderance of blogs and books on related issues have launched a new era of openness and a desire to speak and share about this topic (see the Wee Review of Richard Holloway’s Waiting for the Last Bus). This talk series encompasses the “surprising history” of the Scottish Funeral by acclaimed speaker Eddie Small; and an account by Awdri Doyle of her Life of a Funeral Director. In addition, you might have heard of birth doulas. This model has now been used for the end of life, so given that “The mortality rate in Scotland remains at 100%” the third presentation in this sequence, End-of-Life Doulas, is from Hilary who works in the role of  “making death better”.

The Just programme has some great images, a wide spread of events covering a diversity of right-up-to-the-moment ideas and themes and a plethora of participants from young to older and from all over the world.

Top of the agenda is respect and the right to self-expression, and using the arts as well as more straightforward debate and exchange, this festival is seriously Just!

 

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Where Are You Really from? theatre, Just Festival, Edinburgh.