Kadamati, dance

At The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh Weds 22 Aug 2018.

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Kadamati is a site-specific Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) dance performance set outside the gold and glow of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in which 200 plus school children clad in black, perform Akram Khan’s choreography for us in the mellow Edinburgh evening.

We all arrive early, queue, and then parade around three sides of a huge square to wait patiently behind looped rope as if we are the precious cabinets and chamber pots awaiting the tourists’ gaze. City Council dignitaries from all over the world, Nicola Sturgeon amongst them, troop in afterwards, winning their civic brownie points by showing off like this. (There is a Cultural Summit in Edinburgh taking place at the Scottish Parliament across the road).

The teddy-bear-coloured stone round-tower is all that remains of the abbey-palace-prison-barracks first built in 1128 and it somehow stands in stark contrast to the “themes of identity, migration, connection and hope which mark the end of World War I”. The EIF lot loiter in their yellow T-shirts, the security in neon orange, walkie talkies a-chatter, as the tension builds for the six minute spectacle.

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Rows of performers, some on foot, some in wheelchairs, stand guard for the get-go. At last they swarm in groups of 30 or so, settling in five banks, backs to the churtling fountains and they collectively raise their hands, outstretched, in a blessing. Bowing, humble, a great respiratory sound breathes through the loudspeakers and myriad bodies subtly tilt backwards as if in recognition of something bigger than them, a great exhaling being.

When the orchestra starts, heads are thrown up; and when the drums beat, backs undulate. Arms sweep forwards, out and up, the rhythm builds. Faster they wave adding lunges and steps to move gradually out towards us, drawing us into their sphere. It uses Indian dance imagery of course, with wrists crossed, turning now with inviting gestures. Some Step Dancing  reminds of Scottish tradition, and then they cover their faces with their hands, all the time making figures of eight with their torsos, as if, for all the world, they are trying not to look at the outcome, or avoiding the inevitable.

It is moving, meaningfully danced, wonderfully rehearsed, lovingly drilled. One of the most tricky things to choreograph is a massive team of varying ages and abilities, but Khan obviously knows what to do. To show each person as an able individual and also to manage to inspire a common cause so that they watch and listen acutely to each other (which is what must happen to achieve such a staging), this is an art.

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Karine Polwart – Light on the Shore

Karine Polwart performed at the Leith Theatre as part of the Edinburgh International Festival on 17th Aug 2018.

A concert by turns melancholy and joyous, Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook  is a smorgasbord of Scottish pop anthems to shed a tear or sing along to. Leith Theatre does her proud with its elegant semi-circular balcony and spacious standing area. It has received a once-over for the Light on the Shore series at the Edinburgh International Festival, looking very different from its outing for Hidden Door in May.

Karine Polwart, Scottish Songbook, Leith Theatre EIF
Karine Polwart and her band at leith Theatre – Light in the Shore EIF Aug 2018

The beams of bright peacock lights illuminate the wee lassie from Banknock in Stirlingshire with her whispy pixie hair and direct gaze as she stands amongst her band (including brother, Steven) and beside Inge Thomson.

With a slowly swaying, tentative start, Polwart sings, “You know how it feels to reach too far, too hard, too soon, you saw the whole of the moon”, originally a Waterboys tune. The suffused blue wash hints at starlight and the crowd show huge appreciation from the off.

She regales us with stories about the song’s origins, confident anecdotes. “You can hear the recent Chvrches (sic) song in the lavvies at the service station between Edinburgh and Glasgow.” Drumsticks herald a change to a brisk, syncopated beat, and we’re regaled with The Mother We Share while she plays the tambourine, that and the shawl revealing her folk roots.

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After the audience participation where we are asked to cheer for one of two questions linking music to football, we move to the rock classic So Good To be Back Home by the Tourists and a little bit of hip action as Polwart bops along. We la laa to Strawberry Switchblade’s Since Yesterday as Polwart makes figures of eight with her hand looking like she is really enjoying herself, gesturing for us to join in. Somewhere in My Heart by Aztec Camera comes after, “a slice of pop performance”. For some reason the audience don’t dance – just a toe tap here and there. She dedicates The Machines to babysitters everywhere without whom “we would be at home”.

Best known as a singer songwriter, Polwart’s highly acclaimed A Pocket of Wind Resistance is something quite different from singing these covers, however familiar they are.

Party Feels Two is performed by another member of the band and is a highlight, Polwart humbly accompanying him. There is a gentle pensive ending to the otherwise raucous From Rags to Riches. I Don’t Want to Know is beautifully balanced; and the first half ends with the spacy sounding Teardrop, more of an atmosphere than a song.

Coming back in after the interval there’s the sweet smell of hot bodies and the band start with another sad song, Chance from Big Country. Still not dancing! Thomson sings Mary’s Prayer in her high pitched voice; Two retro numbers, I Could Be Happy (for clapping along to); and Here Comes the Rain are next; as it was the day the great Aretha Franklin died (16 Aug 2018), she was honoured by the accapella Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves; fittingly followed by Women of the World – the choir swells and the drone drones with a churchy feel; Gerry Rafferty, in a pure full voice, is dedicated to their parents; to end there is a medley including KT Tunstall, Dignity by Deacon Blue and ending with Sunshine on Leith (Proclaimers). Well she had to really – It went down a storm!