Definition of Man (Greenside @ Infirmary Street: 3-25 Aug: 11:25: 60 mins)

“Powerful and emotive”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Two performers enter the space, wearing rags and looking dishevelled. It appears they have been alone in a post-apocalyptic wasteland for some time – though for how long doesn’t seem important. What follows is a journey of how two people might survive (purely from a psychological perspective) in this situation.

Definition of Man is created by performers Jason Rosario and Nikki Muller, and could crudely be described as part Waiting for Godot, part DV8 physical theatre piece. After the initial wasteland scene, the performance darts back and forth between mini lectures about chemicals within the brain, personalised accounts of growing up as the child of an immigrant or ‘other’ in the USA, and much more besides. The level of detail in each section demonstrates impressive research and creativity, though comprehension is the main sticking point.

To begin with, there’s a bizarre jarring between the words in the script and the action on stage: the upbeat voices and physicality of the performers seem at odds with the sense of desperate survival implied by the words they say. Then the whistle-stop tour through all the other elements makes it hard to decipher just what, when, and who this show is about.

Only in the second half of the piece do the threads start to come together, and the crux of the relationship between the two characters comes to the forefront – just what happens to two lovers when they are left alone in the world for an inordinate amount of time? The final moments between Muller and Rosario are a powerful and emotive interpretation of this, though it’s a shame this depth comes so late on.

The action is punctuated throughout by some genuinely impressive lifts, balances and counter-tensions, which are an effective way to highlight apparent changes in power and focus between each character, and the emotions at play. When combined with colour design and subtle sound-scaping, moments within this performance really do shine.

To me, though, it feels like there are almost too many themes and ideas crammed into this piece, diluting what could be a compelling discussion into and presentation of the relationship between two people in an extreme environment. With so many different strands, it’s really difficult to get into and connect with the performance and work out what it is and where it’s going.

Overall, Definition of Man is an interesting and intense production that certainly gets the cogs whirring, but unfortunately, for me, it’s all a bit too confused and busy to have the impact it has the potential for.

 

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 9 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

The Sensemaker and Drop the Gogo (ZOO Charteris: 3-11 Aug: 18:00: 60 mins)

“Slick, fun and packed with charisma”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Often contemporary dance can come across as very abstract and inaccessible to normal people. Narratives or themes can be lost in conceptual musings, and it becomes hard for audiences to connect with the action on stage. With this double-bill, however, Swiss company Woman’s Move are presenting work that is more down-to earth – where dancers are people in situations we can all relate to – and the result is enjoyable and engaging.

First up is solo piece The Sensemaker, which sees dancer and choreographer Elsa Couvreur arriving on stage dressed and ready for a job interview, only to be greeted by a ringing phone and a disembodied voice giving her instructions. The tension is palpable through the awkward waiting and uncertainty, though frustration soon builds as the repetition of the automated voice continues. Throughout this sequence there are several comic moments when progress through ‘the system’ is made, only for it to be undermined later, and Couvreur’s facial expressions communicate all we need to know. It’s a fun and simple piece, with a charming interlude to set up the next.

In contrast, Drop the Gogo features six dancers performing an energetic and upbeat routine, where they seamlessly drop in and out of cannon, unison and extended motifs as befits their personalities. There’s a playful, childish element to the piece, highlighted by the costumes and roles each dancer takes on when reliving what they wanted to be when they grew up – something we might all cringe at now. Overall, it’s slick, fun and packed with charisma.

A loose theme of career and expectation threads the two works together, yet the playful irreverence of the choreography shows that this is a company not too concerned with following convention and who are determined to have fun in their own way. Throughout both pieces there’s just enough comprehension to follow what’s going on, though the overall creativity and mood is what comes across most clearly. This isn’t stuffy or stuck-up dance you need to labour through.

Overall, The Sensemaker and Drop the Gogo as a double-bill is fun show that’s full of charm, and well worth watching as your “something different” choice this year. It also once again strengthens ZOO’s leading position as the destination for contemporary dance at the Fringe. Dance fans, please go and check out this show and more of ZOO’s programme, I’ve yet to be disappointed by anything they present.

 

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

The Lover (Lyceum: 20 Jan-3 Feb ’18)

“Glimpses of brilliance”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars

Margerite Duras’s sensational autobiographical novel about an affair between a 15-year-old girl from a poor family and a Chinese millionaire almost twice her age is certainly potent stuff for stage adaptation, and presenting this spoken word/dance interpretation on the backdrop of #MeToo and #ItsTime is a brave choice for co-collaborators The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Stellar Quines and Scottish Dance Theatre, which will be sure to attract interest. Unfortunately, given the finished product, it probably won’t be the level of interest hoped for.

The performance is narrated throughout by The Woman (Susan Vidler), who looks back on how her affair began, developed and ended. Jemima Levick’s and Fleur Darkin’s adaptation is somewhat lazy in its construction, with too many unnecessary accounts of (mimed!) dialogue and a plodding monotony which Vidler’s voice does little to enliven, leaving the other performers often stranded in the middle. Indeed, the confluence between text and movement seems at odds throughout, feeling not unlike a playground grapple for territory.

 

Darkin’s choreography at times gives glimpses of brilliance – from the awkward intimacy between the lovers to the playful fights between Paulo and Pierre – and the production’s moments of stillness (particularly towards the end) and subtle gestures often convey far more than the tedious narration. Yet, in saying that, the choreography also too often lapses into writhing around on the floor and clumsy movement of furniture which instantly breaks any of the mysticism and poetry previously built. It’s a genuine shame not to see lengthier dance sequences to tell the story at the sacrifice of some of the narration, while simplifying and minimising some of the on-stage antics would also ease comprehension.

In The Lover’s defence, Emma Jones’s lighting design and Torben Lars Sylvest’s soundtrack do pleasingly act as mediators throughout, dragging the other disparate elements into a clear time, place and mood. Yet the overriding impression this performance leaves – much like the subject matter of the show itself – is one of misfit: an attempt to bring together two different hearts for glorious joy, yet which ends up flat and, somehow, unfinished. What could have been.

In my book, this is a production that should have worked – it has enough of the right cards (including three great collaborating companies and a fantastic base text) to play a good hand – yet it dithers and dallies its way into such a mediocre result that my only constructive criticism would be to start again from scratch. A commendable concept, poorly executed.

 

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 23 January)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

#JeSuis (Zoo Southside: 16-26th Aug: 20.30: 45 mins)

“Hugely powerful…all this show needs is an audience”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

#JeSuis isn’t just a stunning piece of contemporary dance from Aakash Odedra Company. It’s a galling political movement in response to the global media disparity in coverage of the growing number of displaced people worldwide. And what hits hardest in this performance is the sheer determination and resilience of a group desperate to have their voice heard.

On a basic level #JeSuis presents the hopeless waiting, the loneliness, danger, shaming and stigma of being a refugee, through a series cleverly woven scenes and images that are at once beautiful and brutal. The piece starts slow, as we see the performers wait for something, anything to happen, and when a grizzly authority figure enters and the phone rings, desperation boils over and violence erupts. The use of structural and architectural lighting in this section reflects the harsh rules and boundaries displaced people often find themselves within, adding an extra layer of discomfort as dancers are enclosed within small spaces of light, thrown away from the light, or have a spotlight shone directly in their faces.

The movements are frantic and jagged – as if each limb is under remote control of a six-year-old child on speed – and the quality signifies the alarming lack of control the individuals have over their situation. The imagery created is stark: we see dancers desperately attempt to move freely, to being physically wrapped in layers of cling film while they continue to fight, to the more aggressive restraining of an individual who reaches for the ever-present microphone to one side of the stage. But perhaps most powerful in the early part of the performance is an apparent sexual assault conducted by the authority figure, leaving his victim broken while the others can only look on.

Yet it’s not all darkness and depression – a sense of comradery builds between the group to over-throw their oppressor towards the second half, with rousing unison sequences and a role-reversal as they hold back the authority figure from achieving his own goals. The token use of sung and spoken word are a perfect complement to all the other ways the dancers attempt to express themselves throughout the piece, and it’s evident that something has to give. Yet even as the next chapter emerges at the show’s climax, it’s with a distinctly bitter-sweet sentiment, as the rigid unison once again feels like overbearing control of a different kind.

This performance of #JeSuis is a work in progress, with further development scheduled for the second half of the year, though from here it’s hard to see how much better it can get. From a theatrical perspective seeing some of the individual characters and journeys developed would help build a greater empathetic connection with their stories, otherwise all this show needs is an audience. Even as a work in progress this is a hugely powerful piece of contemporary dance, perhaps made all the more poignant given the fact it is unfinished, like many of the struggles faced by those it represents.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Gossip (Zoo Southside: 4-15 Aug: 20.30: 75 mins)

“A chocolate box of visual delights”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Gossip is a subject we can all relate too, and in a world of hearsay and “fake news”, the theme of Lenka Vagnerova & Company’s latest production is achingly relevant. Yet for a topic so closely associated with words, how does a dance piece explore its intricacies? On the whole, with zeal.

The action begins at a party, as guests arrive and go through the rigmarole of introductions and drinking. The movement is jarring and robotic – a cutting reflection of the forced politeness many of us display in social circumstances – and the skill and dexterity of each dancer’s exaggerated stilted reactions is really wonderful to watch. Tensions soon arise as gossip spreads, and then the real fun begins.

The whole piece follows different characters’ reactions to being gossiped about, joked with (or worse), with creative interpretations of what that experience feels like. From dancers being puppets on an evening out and inadvertently ending up in bed together, to another being physically swamped in a cape made up of all the things she doesn’t say about her husband, the whole performance is energetic, stylish and performed with the swagger one might expect of one of Czech Republic’s most lauded companies.

Yet while gossip is the overall theme, the undertones of the piece are much darker than you might expect – the taunts and fights are at times frightening, and the dramatic ending may be a lesson to us all in keeping our mouths shut and thinking about others before we act. It’s scintillating and dramatic, yet at times very funny, as facial expressions and stylised reactions add a slapstick feel at choice moments, giving the overall performance depth and balance.

The artistry, choreography and control are all stunning, with solos, duos, and ensemble moments, blurring the lines between dance and theatre. Daring lifts, throws and balancing acts will keep you on the edge of your seat and the clever use of changes in dynamic and music keep the performance moving and engaging throughout. This is a company that feels very natural on-stage, with all the creative elements and personalities working together to present of chocolate-box of visual delights.

For me the only disappointing aspect is the lack of clarity of through-line (dare I use the word “narrative”?) throughout the piece. At times it feels like a stream of ideas and explorations following no particular order or structure, and while some loose ends are tied up at the climax where the opening party scene is revisited, I would have liked for the piece to feel like it had more cohesion and completeness.

Overall, Gossip is a very high-quality performance with something for everyone. It certainly deserves to be talked about.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

EQ: Dance! (Various, until 14 June ’17)

“A real treat”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

The Edinburgh Quartet are one of our favourite live music acts here at Edinburgh49, and while normally it’s my colleague Charles we defer to for his superior knowledge of classical music, I was interested to see how a collaboration with Youth Dance Scotland would work, and what unexpected gems might be uncovered when combining classical music with contemporary dance.

The evening commences with a traditional musical performance by the quartet, followed by three dance/music collaborations: all original compositions for the quartet, and with original choreography from Marc Brew.

The first of these, For Sonny captures a very childlike and playful feel, with the dancers darting in and around the musicians (who are positioned centre-stage), seeming to make the rules up as the go along. There’s an element of give and take to the piece as the dancers respond directly to strokes from the quartet in the quieter elements, and to movements from each other – as if playing a rather bizarre version of “follow the leader” throughout. It’s fascinating to see such a close relationship between the dancers and the musicians, even though the danger of collisions sometimes causes the heart-rate to rise somewhat!

The quartet move to the side of the stage for the final two pieces, yet still feel integrated within the performance as the dancers watch and respond to them throughout. The second piece feels just slightly more grown up as the dancers adopt a more uniform and unison approach to their movement, though they become more animalistic – like a set of production line workers in rebellion against the formality of the everyday. Different dancers take turns to break out from the group, using more and more of the space, until they surround the quartet at the end, as if waiting for their next direction or inspiration.

Silent Shores has a significantly more ensemble feel, and combines the best of both of the previous two pieces, with some daring lifts and tableaux in direct response to the music, following its stops and starts with playfulness and control. Reflecting the nature of the isle of Arran, it’s a complex interrelationship as the different aspects of the piece – contrasting stillness and frantic movement – bring about a sense of ongoing time and flow, like the changing of the seasons.

Overall what’s most pleasing about the whole setup is the relationship between the dance and live music, which is cleverly structured and choreographed to integrate the two. At times the movements did lack a little polish and finesse – but perhaps given that the piece is touring across different venues in Scotland for just one night at a time, it can be expected that the dancers will have to adapt to the size and shape of their performance spaces each time, not allowing them to fully relax into each performance.

Something for both dance and classical music aficionados, a real treat. It’s a shame that, at just shy of an hour, the performance is so short.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 10 June)

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Casanova, Northern Ballet (Festival Theatre: 23 – 25 March ’17)

Giuliano Contadini as Casanova.
Photos. Guy Farrow, Northern Ballet.

“Sooo awesome!”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Nae Bad

Casanova is a brand new ballet on its world premier tour, choreographed by Kenneth Tindall in his first major work. This could have gone either way but be reassured: this is a really exciting piece.

The story itself is based upon the life of Giacomo Casanova, taken from Ian Kelly’s biography of Casanova. It starts with Casanova (Giuliano Contadini), a trainee priest, intent upon following his vocation when he meets musicians the Savorgnan Sisters, Nanetta & Marta (Abigail Prudames and Minju Kang). Together the sisters seduce the young priest and take his virginity. Upon discovery, Casanova is cast out of the seminary with only his violin and a book: a forbidden text given to him by Father Balbi (Jeremy Curnier), a renegade priest who, being hunted by Inquisition, offloads the book on to the young man.

What follows is a story of the rise and fall of Casanova, first in his native Venice and afterwards again in Paris after being forced to flee by the Inquisition. Casanova takes himself seriously: he is an intellectual, a mathematician and a social climber. Ultimately though it is a story of talent wasted through dissipation and through that, he loses the women who loved him and whom he loves in turn: Henriette (Hannah Bateman) and Manon Balletti (Ayami Miyata).

In the central role of Casanova, Contadini (almost literally) carries the entire production. This is an incredibly demanding performance, having to show a wide range of emotions, the intellectual acuity, the boredom of unending lust and upmost despair to the brink of self destruction. Contadini is a good choice: the proportions of his Italian frame adds a level of authenticity to the production. The role itself is incredibly physical, one of the toughest I have seen for a male dancer, so it is with little wonder that there was just the slightest sign of fatigue by the end. As Henriette, Bateman’s performance is very moving and, as the nun M.M., Ailen Ramos Betancourt is extremely seductive. The cast delivered their roles wonderfully in a fabulous ensemble performance. Casanova should be sexy and frankly this lot are sex-on-a-stick. Christopher Oram (Costume and Set design) really delivers on this point: creating dance costumes that invoked the 18th. Century while being as revealing as a Berlin cabaret. His set is extremely versatile, which along with the change in lighting (Alastair West) allows the action to be set in the grandeur of Venice, in the glitter of Paris and down in the dungeons of the Inquisition.

The whole production is driven, almost relentlessly, by the score written by Kerry Muzzey. Again the music is modern while being true to the roots of the period. For this writer it brought back memories Michael Nyman’s music for the film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989). The music certainly is cinematic in quality, which is reasonable given this is Muzzey’s background. One audience member was heard to say afterwards “You could have watched that blind. The music!” Tindall is reported as saying that he approached Muzzey to create the music because neither of them have had the experience of creating a major production for ballet before. It shows, but not in a bad way. If one is used more to the Russian style, the choreography perhaps lacks the ostentation and even some of the elegance in comparison. However, the audience is instead offered something a lot more visceral and more approachable. During the interval I met a friend in the audience who had never seen a ballet before. Her eyes were glowing as she said “It is sooo awesome!”

In Casanova, Tindall has created a new ballet which is quickly going to be accepted as a modern classic.

 

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Reviewer:  Martin Veart (Seen 23 March)

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