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

StarStarStarStar

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.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 15 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Correction (ZOO Southside, 11- 19 Aug : 20.15 : 55mins)

“Very well developed and powerful, with bags of personality”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

There are times that I feel like I’ve seen everything there is to see in contemporary dance, but Czech company VerTeDance showed me that originality is still very much alive and well with new piece Correction. The show begins with seven dancers in a neat row on stage, arm’s length apart from each other. And that’s where they stay for the entire performance. Honestly.

Such a bold, simple approach reminded me of the founders of the Judson Church contemporary dance movement in the 1960s, pushing those very same boundaries and asking the question “what is dance?”. While there’s certainly movement and music, the seven performers are literally glued to the floor throughout the piece and don’t take a single step.

Despite the seemingly constraining concept, it’s actually a very well developed and powerful piece, with bags of personality, tension and progression from beginning to end. In the opening moments the dancers look around and become aware of their space and own being. It’s a slow and subtle start, and like many pieces I’ve seen before, but then the fun begins. One dancer turns to poke the next, who reacts by tipping slightly from side to side before coming back to standing. Then they poke the next, and so on. Before long there’s lots of poking, lots of tipping and chaos ensues.

After a brief musical interlude, the next iteration of movement involves the dancers falling over, while still having their feet stuck to the ground. It’s thoroughly enjoyable to watch them struggle back up to standing, with hilarious, unimpressed reactions from their fellow dancers. As this section developed, some of the body contortions and balances made were simply astonishing, and at times seemed to defy gravity.

The action soon moves onto a sort of fight scene, with dancers pushing and shoving and bending and falling in all directions. There are several repeated sequences in this section of the dance, which speed up and becomes more frantic, before a moment of stillness. This section is very impressive and controlled, showing great skill and dexterity to make all the shapes and supporting positions for each move. The final sequence is somewhat unexpected, but adds a new dimension and feeling to the work.

Throughout the piece music is provided by Clarinet Factory, a four-piece clarinet group who move forward and back creating incredible atmosphere with their instruments to support the action. It’s not something you see every day, but in a bizarre kind of way it really works.

This is one of those pieces you’ll be talking and thinking about well after you’ve left the auditorium, and really is worthy of being seen to be believed.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 2 October)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED