#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

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 10 June)

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+3 Review: The Rooster and Partial Memory (Dance Base: 5-14 Aug: 14.30: 45 mins)

“Stark and powerful”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Knowing very little about Middle Eastern dance, I was delighted to get the chance to experience it for the first time. The Rooster and Partial Memory, brought to us by El-Funoun Dance Troupe from Palestine and SHAMS/Marhabtain from Lebanon is a real eye-opener culturally, and it’s wonderful to have them here on a global stage.

The Rooster interprets the idea of the male bird as many different things – not just ruler of the “roost” but disruptor of the peace, chauvinist, dictator, celebrity and general troublemaker. It fuses together Lebanese “dabke” folk dancing with contemporary styles to create a work that celebrates and shares traditional culture but which is also accessible to other audiences.

Much like a rooster first thing in the morning, it starts very slowly and calmly before waking up into an explosion of noise and energy. The role of “the rooster” switches between the dancers throughout the piece, allowing them to add their interpretation of what it means to them, while showing how any man become a rooster at any time.

Thematically, the rooster character generally remains physically separated from the rest of the pack to show their power and prowess over their fellow men, though there are interesting moments of unison depicting how, despite everything, equality sometimes wins through.

The piece creates many different moods and scenarios to demonstrate the different sides and interpretations of the rooster. At times it feels like an intimate solo contemporary piece with a chorus of four cowering behind the leading man, while at other times there’s a party atmosphere full of rhythm and energy.

With so many different interpretations, meanings and moods throughout, it can be a little tricky to follow what’s going on in this piece, especially for those unused to watching contemporary dance, so try not to read too much into it and enjoy it for what it is.

Partial Memory is much simpler to grasp, and also more emotive. It follows one man’s attempt to reconnect with his childhood through a series of projected photographs. With some spoken narrative to aid comprehension, we see him desperately struggle to understand his father’s absence with confused, incomplete sequences, followed be ferocious energy as he interprets his father’s desire to become a fighter.

As the projections speed up and he loses control, we seem him frantic and desperately trying to grasp the images – a feeling we’re all familiar with as something we try to recapture slips away. As the projections start to move around we really do feel his pain as he chases them and it’s a very stark and powerful end to the performance. It would be great to see this developed further.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 6 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

‘To Breathe’ (Summerhall: 24 – 28 Nov ’15)

To Breathe 1


Photography: Andrew Perry. Back line, l to r: Erin Whalley, Tiffany Soirat, Anna Elisabeth Thomsen. Front line, l to r, Adela Briansó, Lewis McDonald, Maddie Flint.

“Inventive and intriguing”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

It’s not often you see student theatre groups perform original work with such a strong dance element, especially pieces on complex themes with so much thought behind them. They generally take hours upon hours to devise and rehearse, so one must give Theatre Paradok kudos for even getting to the startline of this show, and for packing Summerhall’s Demonstration Room to the rafters with an eager audience on a Thursday night.

Given the premise of To Breathe as a physical exploration of body and breath, to me it was a somewhat strange choice to develop it with a cast of performers with limited dance experience and training. The lack of finesse and technique on display in the more choreographed elements unfortunately detracted from what could have been a very powerful and moving (no pun intended) performance, and this was the lasting impression I took with me – a great concept, but perhaps slightly overreached.

As a theatrical spectacle, it was certainly very accomplished: it contained a lot of light and shade, tension and calm, with a good sense of progression and drive, and the performers’ ability to create changing moods seamlessly was very impressive. Early on the piece was very playful, and the performers raised several laughs in their innocent self-discovery, before moving onto more emotive storytelling. Rachel Stollery’s design really complemented the action, as did the subtle use of music, and with a healthy mix of ensemble and solo sections, structurally this show ticks all the boxes.

What the troupe may not have shown in dance technique or grace, they more than made up for in emotional intensity, concentration and sheer gumption. There was a great energy and spirit to the performance, with the whole company throwing themselves into it wholeheartedly. Maddie Flint in particular was utterly watchable throughout, with a very engaging and expressive face.

 

To Breathe 2

Lewis MacDonald and Tiffany Soirat

While choreographically it was a fairly safe piece (albeit with a few too many cliched motifs for my liking), there were moments of dramatic risk that were inventive and intriguing. In one of the duets (performed by Lewis McDonald and Tiffany Soirat) the dancers fought and tussled to cover each other in paint, in a sequence that was both passionate and very well controlled. There were some great lifts on show, and this section oozed with sexual chemistry. Later on, the dancers experimented with different movements with their hands in a pile of mud, which again showed great creativity, yet it was difficult to see the connection between this and the rest of the performance.

Overall, the heart and soul of this performance were absolutely in the right place – but I would have liked to have seen more focus on the dance elements to make it more complete.

nae bad_blue

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 26 November)

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Vertical Influences (Assembly @ Murrayfield Ice Rink, 8 – 29 Aug : various times : 1hr 30 mins)

“The skating is spectacular”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Vertical Influences is an original contemporary dance piece on ice, developed and performed by five talented skaters who were probably kicked out of the Canadian Olympic team for being too cool. I’ll admit upfront: I’m not an ice-skating expert, so please forgive my ignorance of technical terms in describing this performance. I am, however, trained in contemporary dance, so this critique focuses purely on the “dance” aspect of the show.

What’s clear from the very beginning, and what is a real strength of this piece, is just how connected and in tune the dancers are to each other. From the opening sequence where the group “run” in big loops around the rink as though one body, to the smoother sections in the middle where they weave in and out of each other without even seeming to look at where the others are, it’s a very mesmerising performance.

The first half of the piece allows each dancer to show off their own personalities and style through solo sections. The dancers will do sequences around the rink in unison, and one will literally break away to do their own thing, before coming back to the group. The unison sections are very strong with every movement completely in synch, but some of the solo sections, although very physically impressive, did seem more improvised, and so form a stark contrast to to the clearly closely rehearsed group sections. There is a wonderful sense of playfulness between the dancers as they allow each other to go off and be different, safe in the knowledge that they will soon come back.

In the second half the routine is slightly more traditional in terms of choreography, with more unison, canon, and recognisable structures. For this the audience sits in special seats at one end of the ice, and because we are that much closer to the action, it seems much more daring, as the skaters often skate directly towards the audience at terrifying speed, only to turn or stop at the absolute last second. The sense forward and back (a bit like a fashion runway) was very prominent, and the skaters use this to show the variety of ways they could travel towards (and away from) us, always in complete control. The weaving motif is used throughout to give congruence to the halves, but the second certainly feels more grown up, and, dare I say it, professional.

There’s no mistaking that this is very much a contemporary dance piece – there’s not a single sequin to be seen, no throwing of the girl into the air, and no jolly melodies to accompany forced smiles – anyone hoping for a Torvill and Dean bolero will be sadly disappointed. What music there is is quite harsh, mostly rhythm with little melody, and is quite hard to engage with. The piece overall is performed with little sense of spectacle or razzle-dazzle (although it is very tight) and doesn’t have much sense of narrative or development. Still, the skating is spectacular, even if the choreography might not be to everyone’s taste.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 23 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Smother (ZOO, 7 – 22 Aug : 18.40 : 55 mins)

“The choreography throughout is outstanding”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

Smother is a dance piece that loosely covers the theme of relationships, in particular those among gay people. It’s not overtly “gay though”, and doesn’t lose itself in stereotypes, making it very accessible to a wider audience. What is more prominent is just how two people can meet, fall in love, and be affected by an affair, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

The choreography throughout is outstanding, from a full-on hip hop opening number, to more sensuous contemporary sections it explores the party lifestyle, expectation, friendship, infidelity and intimacy. There is a great balance between the big unison group numbers and the more emotive solos and duo sections, while one dancer’s frustration to find anybody to love is made all the more powerful by the constant ignoring of her plight of the performers who walk past her time and again.

Particular highlights include an example of the first awkward encounter in the bedroom getting tangled up in one’s clothes, through to the very emotive trio at the end of the piece, showing how a lover comes between the lead couple to drive them apart. Canon is used very effectively throughout the piece (with one dancer often doing the reverse of their partner), and is powerful enough to show similar thinking, but an ability to communicate it directly.

For a high octane dance piece, performed by a troupe of incredibly lithe and athletic young dancers, it’s also very mature. The overt sexual movements are kept to a minimum, while everyone stays, for the most part, fully clothed. The power comes from engagement between the dancers – their synchronicity (or otherwise) and proximity to one another is enough to show how close they are emotionally and sexually. It’s balanced, detailed and very relatable.

While it’s not quite as hip-hop throughout as the billing suggests (the music perhaps a stronger influence than the choreographic style), the dancers are just as talented at the fast pops and locks as they are with the leaps and lifts in the more contemporary sections. Speaking of the music, it’s a generally a very modern and young selection, at times very lyrically overt, perhaps to aid the narrative, but very effective all the same.

A very  impressive full length debut from 201 Dance Company.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 15 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED