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Edinburgh Festival Fringe

CoisCéim Dance Theatre - 'Knots'

by Lea Marshall

August 7, 2006 10:30 am -- Aurora Nova, St. Stephen’s Church, Edinburgh

When a man dressed in white on a white stage cuts his shirt open with a red spurt and actually pulls out a heart to hand to the woman (also in white) who stands coldly by, watching him, the horror of such a moment should grip you like a vise, drive you to distracted thoughts of racing onstage and staying his hand. When this moment occurs most of the way through “Knots,” however, the six dancers have already inflicted so much psychic damage on each other and themselves, with no resolution in sight, that we watch the heart scene with the same detachment shown by the woman herself.

This is not to say that “Knots” doesn’t get under your skin; inspired by the work of R.D. Laing, the energetic dance-theatre piece explores with cheerful grimness the circular reasoning and clamouring egos that too often overcome romantic relationships once the first blush has passed. Three women walk on in bridal gowns, dragging three men in white suits seated on their trains, and all then enter a set piece comprised of six closet-shaped compartments separated by Plexiglas to perform frenetic, angst-ridden solos within their separate boxes. When the dancers emerge and begin to interact, all hell slowly breaks loose and the battle of the sexes, or perhaps more appropriately, the battle of the damaged psyches, begins.

Movement and text both play strong roles throughout the work, at times intertwining more effectively than others. A hilarious, balletic combination performed by all three couples provides perfect trajectories for partners to bump, elbow, and smack each other while still cleanly evoking crisp classical angles, all the while reciting how one person’s greed makes the other one mean, or vice versa. In general, director Liam Steel’s choreography, through nervous twitching, masochistic gestures, or knotted limbs, effectively embodies his characters’ internal suffering. The set, too, provides perfect containers for suffering and isolation; though during this performance it gave the dancers a considerable amount of technical difficulties.

But though the piece depicts the same problems – self-loathing, egoism, fear, violence, greed – in many different configurations among the three men and three women, it traps both performers and audience by offering no glimpse of enlightenment. If none of us can mature or evolve past those problems, then what end can we hope for other than despairing, or even violent relationships, endlessly repeated? And if that is the point of “Knots,” it could be made more succinctly.

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