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Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Farm in the Cave - 'Sclavi: Song of an Emigrant'

by Lea Marshall

August 6, 2006 -- Aurora Nova, St. Stephen's Church, Edinburgh

“Sclavi: Song of an Emigrant,” performed at Aurora Nova by the Czech company Farm in the Cave, opened with a tremendous clatter, like a boxcar racing through the night. Then Sseven performers leapt out to sing, sure and strong, in a line across the stage, palms turned forward, feet stamping. From such a beginning, we the audience sat riveted by the intensity and committed passion of these actors/dancers/singers/musicians weaving a tale of sorrow, love and anger from the threads of emigrant experiences they traced through research in villages of eastern Slovakia.

Rather than following a single narrative line, “Sclavi” unified snatches of song and story culled from letters and music discovered during the group’s field research. Through seven personalities and the imagery they evoked onstage, however, emerged the tale of many emigrants through the experience of one, whose journey away from and back to his homeland created within him a foreign territory that neither he nor his family could assimilate.

When he attempted to embrace his old love, she pulled away nervously, clearly torn as she pulled down the shoulder strap of her dress and then convulsively pulled it up again. They danced a duet of uneasy embraces; she alternately yielded and struggled to escape, while he wanted only to drink her in. The dance broke off when she shrieked—he went too far.

Details endlessly enriched this performance. Performers transformed the set piece into boxcar, shack, percussive instrument, dance-surface, and dining room table. The woman dancing a duet with the accordion player wore an accordion-fold, pleated skirt. The lover of the emigrant’s would-be wife caught her eye over the family table in a glance that seared the air. Through it all the emigrant watched, attempted to join in, to wrestle with his rival, to wrench events back into a familiar course, but eventually succumbed to despair.

Far from hopeless, though, through light and song and rich physical imagery, “Sclavi” brings to light stories that might not otherwise have been told, adds them to the human saga, and prays the world to take notice. We do.

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