Scottish Dance Theatre in Ritualia, by Colette Sadler. Photo © Brian Hartley


Fringe cuts from Edinburgh 2019

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Scottish Dance Theatre in Colette Sadler’s Ritualia. Photo © Brian Hartley
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A week of dance at the Edinburgh Fringe, as seen by Lena Megyeri at the 2019 NICritics programme for independent writers

Even in the vast landscape of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe performances, one can find patterns and discover topics that are currently on dancemakers’ minds. From tales of boyhood to Taiwanese curiosities, here’s a glimpse into my week’s worth of dance performances at the world’s largest performing arts festival.

Redefining masculinity

It’s been trending for a while: dance shows from, with and about boys or men. Whether it’s a response to the slightly earlier trend of girlpower, the more recent #metoo movement, or just a natural desire to redefine masculinity in the gender-fluid 21st century is an open question, but Fringe delivered its own takes on the subject. Barely Methodical Troupe’s Bromance sets out to explore male camaraderie in a circus show that offers some entertaining stunts, most notably a breathtaking cyr wheel solo. But any deeper meaning fails on the tired, cheap jokes of the armpit-smelling, bum-grabbing-type. Un Poyo Rojo by Argentina’s Nicolás Poggi and Luciano Rosso (performed by Rosso with Alfonso Barón) doesn’t get much further. Set in an empty locker room and involving dancing to live radio, wrestling and silly humour, the two men show off their athletic skills and mock each other constantly. But is childish really the new macho, and are we supposed to laugh at grown men making complete fools of themselves? Despite the long build-up, the homoerotic ending felt out of place and left me rather puzzled. Norway’s Boys in Sync (Jakob Schnack Krog, Jay Fiskerstrand and Simon Zeller) attempts to challenge modern-day boyishness and the norms of performance. There’s a spark of cheekiness as the three young dancers – beautiful, tireless – face us in the fully lit events room of a church and bombard us with self-revelatory confessions, after performing some sports exercises. But the ideas never quite unfold, and the show leaves us with a sense of disorientation – which, in fact, might be an accurate impression of their young generation.

Jakob Schnack Krog, Jay Fiskerstrand and Simon Zeller are ‘Boys in Sync’

Stravinsky reinvented

Two productions were inspired by Stravinsky ballets. The Chosen, choreographed by Kally Lloyd-Jones for her Company Chordelia, references The Rite of Spring: here, The Chosen is any one of us, in the face of our own mortality. Lloyd-Jones’ musings on how we choose to live with this results in 60 minutes of very artistic dying. The choreography includes lots of melodramatic staring and gasping, languishing from the mirrored cubes that form the set and are, mortifyingly, even used as a coffin.

If The Chosen shows how not to reinvent a classic, Scottish Dance Theatre’s Ritualia is a fine example of the opposite. It is based on Bronislava Nijinska’s Ballets Russes piece Les Noces, but while she uses the original score, choreographer Colette Sadler twists everything else around. The wedding becomes a fashion ritual with androgynous figures in black and white knit couture. They pose and vogue, as if on a runway; they are sculptural, but at the same time highly flexible and technical. Together with the lights that come in sharp colours, this show is a feast for the eyes – contemporary dance at its coolest and sexiest.

Between cultures

Not Today’s Yesterday is a collaboration between British bharatanatyam dancer Seeta Patel and Australian choreographer Lina Limosani. A voiceover starts to tell a fairytale about ‘faraway folk’ in a magical land that is later invaded – a clear reference to colonialism, especially with fragments of politicians’ speeches mixed into the text. Patel is a truly charismatic performer, able to hold our attention throughout, and the piece unfolds in a cleverly constructed set full of symbolism – like using different materials to represent the different peoples. But the choreography is didactic, and tries too hard to make its points.

Ali and Alpo is another production that is supposed to build a bridge between cultures, created by Finnish dancer Alpo Aaltokoski and Iraqi musician Ali Alawad. Two weeks before the premiere, Alawad’s asylum application got rejected and he had to flee from Finland, so instead of playing live, his music is pre-recorded and he’s sometimes projected onto a screen. But it’s not only his absence that makes the piece almost exclusively about Aaltokoski, whose choreography is designed to highlight his soft and graceful floats and turns but doesn’t have much to offer beyond these obvious aesthetic pleasures.

Bigger and smaller innovations

As one would expect, many of Fringe’s dance shows experiment with style, form or body language. There’s even a project called Innovations Contemporary Dance Platform that showcases young choreographers’ works with two different line-ups. Although I only got to see ‘Programme A’, this platform, in its current form, doesn’t seem to live up to its name.

Karl Jay Lewin and Matteo Fargion make Extremely Pedestrian Chorales

Extremely Pedestrian Chorales, on the contrary, is an ambitious project that shows that it is literally possible to translate music into movement. By combining notations of the movement of pedestrians with Bach’s Chorales into a visual score, collaborators Karl Jay Lewin and Matteo Fargion create a work for four dancers that is clever, instructive (they show us the score itself) and entertaining – if probably more fun to dance than to watch.

Have you ever seen a dance show that you really hated? Imagine being invited to its rehearsal and being allowed to laugh, and you get From the Top by Hong Kong’s Victor Fung Dance. It’s another piece with voiceover: we hear rather nonsensical rehearsal instructions from an invisible choreographer while the dancers’ (often hilarious) thoughts and reflections are ‘subtitled’ on a screen. From the Top makes fun of the often absurd nature of so-called artistic integrity, but never takes itself too seriously.

From the Top with Victor Fung Dance

Recirquel is Hungary’s most successful contemporary circus group that aims to stand out not just with incredible acrobatics but with more dance-based choreography, creating the genre of ‘cirque danse’. My Land offers just that. It’s professional and often takes your breath away, but it lacks playfulness and uniqueness – except for a virtuoso duet between a man and a ladder, which steals the show and wins the audience’s heart.

Made in Taiwan

For the sixth year in a row, Edinburgh Fringe presented a Taiwan season. With only four shows on the programme, it was still a diverse and exciting selection. Shinehouse Theatre’s Fish is a simple tale of a young boy and his grandfather with a nice moral (even when it’s hard to show our love, we have to try). The piece is aimed at hearing-impaired audiences, and while it’s supposed to be enjoyable to any spectator, it’s simply too busy with puppetry, sign language, spoken text and subtitles to be followed all at once.

Monster, produced by Dua Shin Te Production, seems to aim for something meaningful and experimental, but for the most part the piece is anything but original. Described by choreographer-performer Yen-Chen Liu as a psychedelic fantasy, it is randomly filled with strobe lights, lots of smoke, pseudo-philosophical contemplations on time, and mildly witty meta-messages displayed on a screen or heard from a speaker. There’s also a little nudity thrown in for good measure. These many ingredients do not add up to a coherent and engaging piece.

Chang Dance Theatre’s Bout is another in the line of shows that dig into male bonding, but this one gets a special layer, as the three performers are all brothers. The intricate choreography draws on wrestling, everyday movements and contemporary techniques to show that while men are often expected to have a certain outward image, they can always pause and lean on each other for support. A beautiful exploration of the importance of brotherhood in a hectic modern world.

B.Dance (Taiwan) in Po-tseng Chai’s Floating Flowers. Photo © Chou Mo
B.Dance (Taiwan) in Po-cheng Tsai’s Floating Flowers. Photo © Chou Mo

Floating Flowers, choreographed by Po-Cheng Tsai and performed by his company B.Dance’s fantastic cast, is inspired by a traditional Buddhist ceremony of floating lanterns on water to send away bad luck and bring happiness. Since his father’s death, Tsai had lost faith in this favourite ritual of his childhood, but was inspired to create this piece to honour his father and cope with his grief. This background story explains the visual beauty and emotional whirlwind of Floating Flowers; that it never becomes sentimental or kitschy is a proof of Tsai’s sense of balance. Dressed in white – and indeed, playfully floating – muslin, the dancers speed through the wicked, mad and steadily surprising choreography with incredible control and precision, never losing their perfect unison. A performance of meticulous structure and endless choreographic imagination, it’s a gem in the Fringe programme and one to look out for as it’s promised to set off on a European tour. 

This text was written through the NICritics programme at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe

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Edinburgh, Scotland.
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