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Edinburgh Fringe - DO Theatre

'Hangman'

by Lea Marshall

August 9, 2007 -- Assembly Aurora Nova, St. Stephen's Church, Edinburgh, Scotland

DO Theatre, originally from Russia and now based in Germany, excel at making dance-theatre works centered on a theme – creating a stage world with sets, lights, props and their own bodies – and then spinning out interpretations of and variations on that theme for a rich theatrical experience. At Fringe 2003 they studied flying in “Bird’s Eye View;” in 2005 they danced insomnia in “Sleep…Less…Ness.” This year’s offering, “Hangman,” winds its tortuous way through the more complex theme of perpetration and victimhood.

Even before the piece begins, we come upon a stage covered in newspaper, with newspapered panels draped overhead and the amplified sound of typing from a bowler-hatted performer/technician (Tanya Williams) working at an old typewriter in the far downstage-left corner. Another figure (Julia Tokareva) straddles a chair, facing back, beneath letters hung on a line, spelling HANGMAN. Three sit at a table, apparently asleep (Alexander Bondarev, Evgeny Kozlov, Irina Kozlova).

When the typist finishes and pulls her paper from the machine, the piece begins. The three at the table see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil, and they busily confer and debate in effortless clowning sequences – at one point, the table levitates suddenly. But when three hold down one and seemingly nail her hand to a board, they launch the entire work on a strange journey through a series of scenes – some transcendently beautiful, but some more relevant than others.

Three dancers with suitcases walk through the newspaper and it sticks to their shoes, creating a mess and an edge to their movement that comes from uncertain footing. Two gang up and shoot the third, swiping her suitcase which turns out to be filled with money. But greed overtakes again, until only one remains to carry off the booty. In a later scene, two lunching ladies, after ceaselessly harassing their waiter, are served spaghetti out of the back of a gentleman’s head; it turns out to be poisoned, and they drop dead, to the delight of the waiter and his gentleman-conspirator.

One of the work’s loveliest scenes also makes the least sense in the larger context of the piece. Three small lights suspended from long cords, each shaded by a tattered book, serve as a visual accompaniment to three dancers who swing them in unison and then move through a floor sequence – slow shoulder rolls, spins and inversions – in the book-lights’ shifting shadows, to the sound of the sea.

Another oddity – though not lovely - midway through the work, Williams comes front and center and attempts to auction off shreds of newspaper, which appears to be solely a play for time while the other two female performers change clothes. We also see a couple of the company’s tricks reprised from earlier works, namely two coats on hangers, with the women hanging inside them, dancing a drunken duet.

Taken as a whole, however, “Hangman” delivers DO Theatre’s committed intensity of performance and investigation of ideas in a satisfying, expansive visual experience.

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