Autóctonos II, dance

At Zoo, Southside. Edinburgh Fringe, 22 and 24-27 Aug 218 1800 hrs

A grouping of shifting, swivelling dancers. Sharp quarter turns, heels slightly lifted, neck torso arms and face rigid and unchanging. Automaton meets shop dummies in Autóctonos II, and save the odd cryptic word from one of them every now and then (it is assumed the dancers can influence the order and formation by randomly giving a verbal sign) and the faintly varied, prepared piano, so it continues. For 10 minutes, 20 and counting, Ayelin Parolin’s choreography and Lea Petra’s composition and playing goes on.

For sure, this repetitive, unchanging movement is extensive within the contemporary dance community at all levels of experience just now, if the Edinburgh Fringe and International Festival are anything to go by, and if it represents their reality then it doesn’t say much for the lives they are leading or seeing around them.

Bleak, uninteresting, monotonous. If it is meant to be this way – it succeeds. It may be representative of reality, but is it the stuff of effective performance? It is as if they would have done this without the audience. There are, as the programme puts it, “hairline fractures” of change: eventually a range of arm movements (physical ticks, a cut, a thrust, a punch) which are then used for the whole of the second half; slight changes of direction; occasional separation of one from the crowd; a hint of variety of plane; a sort of searching or looking. There is a complete absence of beauty.

autoctonos ii

If this is the truth, no wonder no-one marches or opposes any abusive government or partner! An enquiry into this topic is laudable, but it is truly mind-numbing and pedestrian to view. For some reason even the score, played so attentively, is the same; probably because it is monotone and uses an intensely small range of notes.

The lives of workers and those with no resources, of the down-trodden or of political prisoners when shown on the TV or written about, suggest that human beings find a smile or a notion of love even amongst the terror or fear. There is nothing of that here.

The performances are focused, the actions precise, but there is zero for an audience to hook onto, and although this may be representative of their view, it only serves to alienate and estrange the watcher, avoiding any sort of outcome. Is it enough to show a state of mind but evade explanation or comment?

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.

 

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.

We Are – African music and dance

Adaawe – We Are Festival at St John’s Church, Edinburgh. Aug 10-11, 13-14, 17-18, 20-21, 24-25 at 21.00 hrs.

Dance and music inspired by African culture is almost always joyous, and We Are is no exception. Part of the Just Festival at St John’s, the show was devised and performed by Adaawe with Anindo Marshall (co-founder) on vocals and percussion, Dez “the Pharoah” Glover using drum kit and vocals, and Chiyumba Ossone, also on percussion and vocals – all from Los Angeles. They are backed up by Karel Kalef (bass guitar), Neil Martin (guitar) and Suzy Cargill (percussion), all from Edinburgh. They are on stage with Ula Enaholo (vocals), a talented teenager from our local Royal Lyceum Youth Theatre, and a host of enthusiastic and committed children from the Marion Sweeney School of Dance in Linlithgow, just outside the city. Dedicated to and inspired by the women of Ghana, West Africa, they bounce off their own ethnic roots from Africa to the Middle East, Morocco and Panama, as well as the US.

ADAAWE

The show consists of a series of acts, opening and closing with rousing vocals and gentle dance numbers from the whole cast. The children, despite only rehearsing on skype until this weekend and then having two practices once the key women had arrived on Scottish turf, are fantastic; ebullient and really skilful considering their age. Moving the upper torso in the traditional African way is contrary to all Western styles of dance training and yet they do it admirably.

The key theme is that of the strong matriachs who inspired the central cast, amongst them Rosa Parks  (who in 1955 stood up against the dominant white folk by remaining in her seat on the bus); and Malala (who was shot on a bus in 2012 for standing up for education for girls). Using projections on a banner at the back, white face masks, moving lyrics, dramatic poems, live recordings and simple but effective movement, the show teaches us about these powerful women and invites us to sing along in celebration.

This first night was not without its (temporary) technical difficulties but the cast were dedicated and wholly present. This is something rare: a work which is both entertaining and educational – absolutely ideal for teenagers to instil strength and determination by learning from their forebears.

Bethany Black: Stand-up comedian

 

Bethany Black – Unwinnable. The Stand Comedy Club 2, Edinburgh fringe. Aug 5-12, 14-26 15.50. Adult.

Bethany Black has all the labels and appellations and she fucking well uses them in her Fringe show, Unwinnable: lesbian, trans, autistic, OCD, ADHD, alcoholic (did she say that?), agoraphobia. You name them. With her slick black Hitler hair (that’s her own joke), Manchester accent and cute smile, she rambles away most professionally, topics tripping off her tongue as she has been wont to do for the past 16 years.

She is like an experienced therapist: she does not hide her habits or mistakes (if there are such things in stand-up), she smoothly acknowledges them, gets an appropriate laugh and moves on. Not that she wears her heart on her sleeve exactly, although she sort of does, but she has her play-list on the back of her hand.

As if those personal themes weren’t enough material for an hour’s show, she tackles racism, Danish airport security which was ultimately unsecure for her (and I sincerely hope she reported him to the police), on-line paedophiles, and having a father who’s not just an ex-blacksmith but also a Morris dancer.

Most importantly she rants intelligently about the everyday bigotry which she encounters: the cyber bullying, the boys on the street who have to “warm up like an old radio” before hurling abuse (aaaah…you…!), the ‘incels’, the anti-trans protesters at the front of the recent Pride March and much more. She is understandably angry and gets her point across loud and clear. With her proven track record, why shouldn’t she use her show as a soap-box? It’s her reality and most of us, her four-star audience, are symp- and empathetic.

Bathany Black 2
She stays at home a lot : probably taking selfies!

At what turns out to be almost the last minute she stops mid story, checks the time and her notes, loops back to the beginning and neatly snaps off the routine on an up-note. Then the seriously loud music once again regales our ears (‘change must come through the barrel of a gun’ Mao Tse Tung Said by Alabama – was that Black’s choice?) and we’re off back out into the sunshine.

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.