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Dance at Edinburgh 2010

Posted on September 29, 2010

By Robert Penman

Founded in 1982 and now well-known and widely respected throughout Europe and North America, the appearance of San Francisco-based choreographer Alonzo King LINES Ballet at the Festival Theatre on August 26 was a Festival first for the UK. With King’s ballets already established in the repertoires of major companies on both continents, the UK has been particularly slow to come to the party (especially as the British politician Oona King is a relative).


The performance of two works, Dust and Light and Rasa, created in 2007, offered the audience a glimpse of his work and, if nothing else, confirmed the popularity of the brand. King clearly divided the critics: The Herald and The Scotsman celebrated his achievements, whilst The Guardian, among others, complained about the fragmented, insubstantial choreography. The response of the audience at the Festival Theatre was generous bordering on the ecstatic. King effectively uses the sublime elegance and virtuosity of his dancers, whose classical and contemporary backgrounds have provided him with a remarkable instrument. The dancers repay the compliment by confidently commanding his vocabulary and interpreting his work in ways that demonstrate they are at one with it.

Dance and Light opens with the spotlit sculptural form of a single dancer and is then structured around brief episodes (duets and trios) that conjure a fierce and transcendent beauty – a cathedral of high extensions and arabesque lines that gracefully decline and finally disappear to dust. It has a fierce beauty.

Indian tabla music composed and played “live” by Grammy Award-winner Zakir Hussain and Kala Ramnath provided the inspiration for Rasa. King’s neo-classical choreography is intelligently crafted to interpret Hussain’s score. It is a work that fairly embodies the achievement of both artists, one that celebrates their internationalism – an embracing circle of dance and the rhythm of life.

Meanwhile, at the Edinburgh Playhouse, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch was in an exuberant mood in Água, Pina Bausch’s picture postcard celebration of the company’s trip to Brazil. Created in 2001, this was its UK premiere. The work distils the country’s vibrancy, although the favelas and devastated rainforests are noticeable by their absence, so although Água is compelling theatre, it is hardly a profound or complete response.

Staged by Peter Pabst, one of Bausch’s key collaborators, and danced to an assemblage of Brazilian music and video footage, Água is a sensual treat for the eye and the ear, dance as theatre spectacle. It bears the hallmarks of classic Bausch: the personal, the confessional, the interleaving dance scenes fraught with desire performed by women in heels and men in suits, who eventually get their chests out. (Male chests were very much in evidence at this year’s Festival.) In Água these scenes are energised by the style, glamour and physical allure of both the country and its wealthier citizens. National Geographic meets Pina Bausch – there’s a thought. The obvious clichés of carnival are avoided in favour of more sophisticated fare until the end of the evening when the cast drench each other with water: when it’s hot it’s fun to get wet, I guess. Or is it a kind of baptism when the past is washed away? What we are offered borders at times on fringes of dance tourism, but there’s no doubt that the intensity of the images, the embodiment and editing of desire lift it to another plane – a must-see for Bausch aficionados.

Away from the International Festival on the Fringe at Zoo Roxy, La Lutte was created by Belgian choreographer Filip van Huffel, and performed with an animal intensity by Steven Martin and Matthew Slater of Retina Dance. The apparently pedestrian movement is structured into highly detailed phases that were evidently minutely rehearsed; in a hectic performance the dancers’ timing was perfect. The audience witnessed an hour of unresolved physical combat of epic, almost biblical intensity – Cain and Abel, or Jacob and the Angel. It was a pity that sibling rivalry and the search for identity through feats of dominance and defiance failed to command a wider public.

Surprisingly, a new dance company, Collisions, directed by David Beer, presented four new works under the umbrella title Intertwine. The four dancers had garnered four-star reviews and well-attended shows. The most convincing work was Inertia, danced to music by Ludovico Einaudi; it revealed an intelligent approach, using classically trained dancers – Ana Mrdjanov, Bianca Silcox and Verity Hopkins – in a contemporary idiom, performing a work about the struggle to maintain momentum against physical and personal forces that tend to inertia, which is no danger for David Beer: he is a capable classical dancer, a useful choreographer and the company director. He needs to take care because often those roles conflict – but he has made a brave start.

Far more established, Tom Dale’s company, appearing at Zoo Southside, presented Roam. Dale had equally talented contemporary dancers at his disposal. Articulate movement phrases followed one after another in a metaphor for life’s roaming instinct. Danced to a hybrid score by composers Sam Shackleton, Jo Wills and Guy Wood, the dancers, ran and turned, and tumbled to good effect, but to little purpose. It was cool; it was clever. We were roaming but we weren’t going anywhere. The words tedious and pointless sprung to mind. The audience was more or less missing on the day that I saw it.

On a more positive note, Dance Base’s Heads Up programme provided an excellent overview of dance on the Fringe. The 15-minute excerpts from different shows, selected by Morag Deyes, illustrated perfectly the range and diversity of dance on offer: the authenticity of the Devadasi dancers from the Temple of Fine Arts in Odissi; the charm and wit of Agathe Girard’s homage to Jacques Brel; Thomas Small’s solo, performed by the estimable Tom Pritchard, based on tragic images of a man falling from one of the Twin Towers on 9/11; and Ross Cooper’s hymn of praise to winter danced to Vivaldi – an hour of dance well worth watching.

Negotiating what to see on the Fringe is one of the great arts of attending the Festival, so it is always best to start early. It is a remarkable celebration and still worth the time and effort.

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