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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2005

Journal from the Fringe

by David Mead

[Inspired by the Festival Fringe, a kaleidoscopic experience for dance, musical comedy and theatre enthusiasts of all persuasions, David Mead shares eight of his sightings -- ed.]

Tadashi Endo - 'Ma'

August 16, 2005 -- The Garage at the Citrus Club, Edinburgh, Scotland

Created in 1991, Endo says that "Ma" “shows pictures of changes … dances the circulation of univesal history … makes the unvisible visible…invites you to your inner emptiness…and fills your soul with a deep satisfaction”. From the moment you enter to the sounds of waves gently breaking you know that you are in some inner space.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Endo appears, sitting on the floor with only a pot for company. He has said that his dance is an expression of his experiences as child, adult and father. It is about the past and present, hopes and the future. For an hour he lets us into that world. We are outside his mind but in a way we are also inside. We are somehow in between.

He may seem to be hardly moving but there is such intensity, such internal effort that he quickly becomes covered in sweat. The contents of the pot are revealed to be water which Endo gently pours on the floor as if some sort of symbolic representation of water as life. Slowly he disrobes, then lays in the pool, suddenly rolling, again and again, before becoming still again and assuming a foetus position. He is completely calm; not dead but not alive. It as though the end is also the beginning; the life cycle is beginning again.

Butoh is not for everyone. Slow it may be, but it is full of emotion and energy, even if it's internal energy rather than the external display we are so used to. The score by Ryuichi Sakamoto and others, much of it with Japanses vocals and a captivating rhythm, simply adds to the occasion. "Ma" is a powerful work by an extraordinary performer.

Sara Crow, Curious Seed, David Hughes Dance Company

August 16, 2005 -- Dance Base, Edinburgh, Scotland

"The Smallest Things" is a short dance film by Sara Crow, inspired by the stark and haunting stories of American author Raymond Carver. The film builds on a scene of one man’s lonely encounter with a young couple he finds dancing in his driveway, taking the viewer past the seen world and into the memories and desires of its characters. Part shot in grainy black and white and part in colour, this is a visually stunning and attention-holding film that slowly builds to its climax. It was just a shame that when we got there, someone decided to start using a sort of fast freeze-frame effect that really was not needed.

In "Almost But Not Quite" dancer/choreographer Christine Delaney has gathered her memories and spread them out on the floor around her. So convincing is she that as she tells us a little about each, we start to see them for ourselves. She is so convincing that she makes us believe too. We also almost see these memories as real objects and not just something in a mind. A powerful performance, very nicely and sometimes aching beautifully, danced.

"[4:FREEZE-FRAME]" is a new work by Rafael Bonachela, Associate Choreographer at Rambert Dance Company, to what can only be described as an eclectic score ranging from 13th century classical music to American rock. It opens with a sensitive and intimate duet. There is clearly a relationship here, but do they want each other or not? Sometimes 'yes' and they reach for the other but sometimes 'no' and there is a concerted effort by one to push the other away. As we move on, Bonachela effortlessly guides us through further sections for two, then three and then four with inventive choreography and partnering. There is no chance to get bored here as the partnering constantly changes, often featuring breathtakingly explosive physical dance with real power and strength.

Quite simply "[4:FREEZE FRAME]" oozes class. The four dancers, David Hughes, Rachel Morrow, Kally Lloyd-Jones and Alan Lambie were superb. I understand that the piece was made on them to use the skills and qualities they have, and it shows. The ticket price is worth it for this piece alone. I will be amazed if it doesn’t get a wider showing. Go see it!

Colin Poole - 'Box Office', 'Bad Faith'

August 16, 2005 -- Dance Base, Edinburgh, Scotland

"The Box Office" opens to incredibly powerful images of awful looking high-rise estate, block after block of desolate apartment blocks, to the ironic sounds of "Somewhere" from "West Side Story." Unfortunately it’s all downhill from there. We are told that this is a work that illustrates grotesque "blaxploitation" scenes of violence, prostitution and addiction. It is also a work where, on this showing, Poole singularly fails to connect with the audience.

Poole does tell us what the subject matter is through his use of soundscape and costume. For example, the ‘violence’ section is accompanied by what sounds like a track from a Second World War movie while we recognize ‘prostitution’ thanks to Poole's use of female tights. The problem is the choreography that goes with all this looks so much the same. Perhaps that is the point he is trying to make: with life on these estates, everything simply merges into one another. At the end he sits on a chair and looks straight at the audience, as if asking us to think about what we have seen. The problem was that by then I really didn’t care.

"Bad Faith" is a duet, danced here by Poole and Gena Mann, exploring relationships and themes of sex, seduction and deceit, danced to a soundtrack embracing everything from Ravel’s "Bolero" through Debussy’s "Clare de Lune" and the Bossa Nova to Barry White and Britney Spears.

Poole immediately seemed more at home here. The duet builds from the dance floor through foreplay to sex, where the two become locked in a deep kiss, releasing only briefly to mouth words from Barry White’s rather apt "Love you just a little bit more." There is humour, clarity of intent and communication with the audience. The choreography works, particularly when longer clips of music are used such as Britney Spears’ "Baby one more time" and a theme is given time to develop. The only difficult sections, as ever, were some early clips of "Bolero." Why do choreographers continue to use this music and continue to feel they have to religiously follow its every musical idea? It rarely works. The two dancers were excellent though, Mann especially, each seemingly following their own agenda for where this relationship is inexorably going.

Glasgow Student Dance Company - 'All and then another...'

August 17, 2005 -- Greenside, Edinburgh, Scotland

The Glasgow Student Dance Company was formed less than a year ago with the aim to offer dance training to anyone, regardless of experience, fitness or health. They now have almost 60 members with the majority having received no formal dance training.

The Company say they are looking for newer and bigger challenges. Dancing at Greenside was certainly a challenge and not only because the company was appearing at a major festival for the first time. The stage barely seemed bigger than my dining room table, considerably restricting the larger movement and jumps, but in spite of their inexperience, the dancers coped pretty well.

A new company like this is always going to be feeling its way choreographically and it showed in the quadruple bill presented here. The first two pieces, "Touch of the Night" and "Folie a Deux," both suffered being overly technical from a dance technique perspective, not showing the dancers at their best. In parts they also looked like little more than phrases and sequences from the contemporary dance classroom strung together. "Touch," supposedly about the dynamics and physicality of relationships, sex and power, with violence contrasted with tenderness, also seemed to especially suffer from the lack of space.

"Mara," the third piece, was more successful choreographically. In Buddhist teachings, Mara is the ruler of desire and death, the two evils that chain man to the wheel of ceaseless rebirth. Mara reviles man, blinds him, guides him toward sensuous desires; once man is in his bondage, Mara is free to destroy him. Solo dancer Hannah Pechey first danced behind a white screen, giving a beautiful ‘shadow dancing’ effect, then repeated much of it in front, all to gorgeous vocals by Annie Rose.

The show concluded with "Fever," a light-hearted, upbeat, up-tempo piece for the whole company, to Nina Simone’s "Sinner Man." It features lots of turns, lifts, entrances and exits and always has something to keep you interested. Again though, it would be nice to see this performed on a larger stage where the dancers can express their obvious enjoyment a little more.

Manda Jones’ young company clearly have skills and having worked with such groups, I understand the challenges, but one is left with the feeling that they can do so much more. I hope they do because these young dancers, aged 18 to 21, are clearly enjoying themselves and helping to spread the word about dance. There is a place for companies like GSDC. A lack of dance training does not necessarily equate to a lack of quality but the productions must be right for the level of talent.

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