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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2005

Journal from the Fringe

by David Mead

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Scottish Dance Theatre - 'Luxuria'

August 17, 2005 -- Edinburgh, Scotland

From the dramatic opening when a solo dancer enters with a series of amazing fast cartwheels, "Luxuria" has you completely hooked. Eight more dancers enter, each dramatic and fast, the men in a sort of green straightjacket, the women in hooped ballgowns. Relationships form but one man, the first who came in, is left alone, just standing, looking, staring into space. This is incredibly effective. You wonder why he is left out. Has he lost his girl? Did he never have one? Why? It even gets to the point where, despite everything else going on, he is the focus. It is so effective that you almost don’t want him to find her.

Choreographed by Liv Lorent, Artistic Director of BalletLORENT and previous winner of the Jerwood Choreographic Award, "Luxuria" is about relationships and just like most it is at times witty, thoughtful, sad, passionate, romantic and lots more.

The other couples explore their relationships through a series of duets, sometimes athletic, sometimes romantic but always inventive. You can’t take your eyes off them. There is always so much detail to see. The men use the cords of their straightjackets to bind themselves to their women, each partnership becoming as one. They lift each other, spin, tumble and fall. At times the women caress their men with their gowns, tempting them, teasing them, arousing their desires. Yes, it is sexy; unashamedly so. At another point they glide effortlessly as if on casters.

The work is performed to a beautiful score with music by Tsabropolous, Richter, Silvestrov, Calexico, Morelenbaum and Pinto.

Oh, and the lonely man from the opening? He reappears from time to time and is there at the end, when he receives a surprise (I’m not saying any more!).

The only sad thing about SDT at the Festival is that, thanks to their original venue becoming unavailable, "Luxuria" is all we get to see of these fabulous dancers. However, Janet Smith’s dynamic, vibrant company are on the road again this autumn, with "Luxuria" on the programme. Catch them if you can. You will not be disappointed.

Shakti - 'Beauty and the Beast'

August 17, 2005 -- The Garage at the Citrus Club, Edinburgh, Scotland

Have you ever felt that there was something inside you telling you to do something -- a ‘voice’ that you just can’t ignore any more? "Beauty and the Beast" is what happens when the voice calls: it is Shakti’s journey of transformation.

The journey begins along empty corridors of light with all the attendant darkness and shadows that exist within us all. Sometimes we see her clearly, sometimes not. She is also hidden by a mask and beads, but we know the Beauty is there.

The second section is called "The Rose". Shakti says “we must become a rose – blossoming from a bud to a full flower – only to have our petals scatter and fly away”. Another ‘beauty’ turns into a ‘beast’. We see her dressed in a beautiful flame red silk representing the flower, which she slowly removes and then swirls and waves around her ever more fiercely as if a fire were blazing at the centre. Long banners of silver foil become leaves, draped around her at times.

Eventually water pours from overhead and the Beauty is purified and clean. Now the transformation can occur. Using paint and animalistic body language and expression, the Beauty is now the Beast. Shakti slowly discards everything that is left, clothes and jewelry too. We finally see the Beast in her full glory, now monster-like but not evil. She is however full of female sexuality.

Walt Disney this is not. Rather it’s symbolic of something that is probably in all of us, be it good and bad or whatever; and doesn’t it sometimes feel good to be bad? As Shakti says at the end of the show, “There is a beast within us all. We love to live like the beauty, but more than ever like the beast”.

Shakti is Sanskrit for ‘energy’: creative energy and sexual energy. "Beauty and the Beast" certainly reflects that. The movement is sometimes slow and deliberate, sometimes fast and frenzied. There are clearly elements of Indian classical dance but there seems to be something of a Far Eastern aesthetic, too, which is hardly surprising as she has an Indian father and a Japanese mother and grew up experiencing both cultures.

Lost Dog - 'The Drowner'

August 18, 2005 -- Roman Eagle Lodge, Edinburgh, Scotland

"The Drowner" is the simple story of a man and a girl. Oh, yes, and a bath. He was out running on the beach, trying to avoid getting bad knees and having a heart attack, as he constantly reminds us, when he finds a girl under the pier. It’s about how he called an ambulance that never came. How he took her home and what happened. Or is it?

Is it rather the story of a man’s unfulfilled desire? A man who is clearly full of nervous energy, perhaps even unbalanced. He runs seemingly on and on. He talks on and on. Is he telling us the story or is he trying to convince himself that this all really happened -- that this beautiful woman really did exist.

Whichever it is, and it’s for the audience to make up their own minds, "The Drowner" is brilliantly danced and told by Ben Duke and Racquel Meseguer to Jim de Zoete’s guitar and vocals. The dance is sometimes lyrical: their love seems real, sometimes fast moving and athletic, though, always with an undertone of menace. Why is her dress always “not quite dry”? Why, when she borrows a T-shirt, is it identical to the one he wears?

Despite the man's best endeavours, the girl eventually leaves, either in reality or from his dream, and he is alone again. Are they memories or is his fevered mind working overtime. You want to believe. You want it to be true, but somehow you think it might not be. You want a happy ending, but know it can’t be.

The work was inspired by the Seal People myths of the Orkney Islands. Legend has it that at night, seal women can be seen dancing on the beach, their seal skins temporarily discarded for human form.

"Lost Dog" is barely twelve months old but the artists have already won awards and had work commissioned by Phoenix Dance Theatre. "The Drowner" was a new show for the Fringe and by the time you read this it will have closed. In conversation afterwards, Mesequer told me that their future plans are still under discussion. However, they are looking at taking it to British Dance Edition 2006 in Leeds. If so, give yourselves a treat and go.

MuMu Productions - 'Yin-Yang'

August 18, 2005 -- George Square Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland

"Yin-Yang" combines Korean dance and martial arts with traditional Korean visual art and Oriental philosophy. Its cast of six women and three men provide a heady evening of ballet, modern dance, traditional art and dance, martial arts, gymnastics, and goodness knows what else all rolled into one.

The great thing is that "Yin-Yang" can be enjoyed on many levels. You do not have to understand the philosophy behind it. You do not have to know anything about martial arts. You can just enjoy it as a colourful, exciting, fast-moving spectacle.

The evening certainly has its share of “don’t try this at home” moments. The men, Korean martial arts grand masters and fighting champions, display breathtaking feats with swords, rods and spears. I hesitate to call them stunts, but some are done blindfolded, requiring incredible mental concentration. There is, for example, a sort of Korean take on the William Tell story. One of the men lies with an apple on his stomach. Another, blindfolded, slices the apple in two vertically with a sword. Hardly surprisingly the audience was gasping out loud. At another point, a man pierces his arms with pins (some of the audience looked away when that happened!), then attaches ropes to a huge drum on a heavy wooden carriage which he pulls around the stage.

Throughout the show, the Yang (stunts and gymnastics) is balanced by the Yin (dance). Six graceful women dance with pots of lighted incense, creating a sense of Eastern mystery, red fans to communicate with a spirit to deliver spiritual energy, and bells and swords, again to reach the spirits, all drawing on traditional folk dance. Sometimes the women are joined by the men with their amazing gymnastics, tumbling and somersaulting over and through them. The women’s silk costumes are quite stunning: sometimes white, sometimes red, but perhaps the best of all, a quite brilliant blue.

And while all this is happening, artist Ku Jung-Du produces five mostly black and white paintings live using traditional techniques. One is a spiritual portrait, the others showing the traditional four gracious plants – plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo – representing universal space. These appear on a five-folded screen at the back of the stage, each fold lit in turn, the paintings appearing as if by magic as Ku works from behind.

"Yin-Yang" was produced in association with the National Theatre of Korea and directed by MuMu founder Woo Jae-Hyeon, who had also directed the opening ceremony of the 1998 World Cup and is presently a dancer with the National Dance Company of Korea. The performers had the audience clapping and cheering throughout and quite deservedly had them standing at the end. “Amazing” said the lady in front of me. Quite right. If you want fifty minutes of fast-action spectacle, danger and beauty, this is going to be hard to beat.

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