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?