Dance and its Edinburgh sister "Physical Theatre" seems rather under-represented at the fringe. You get the picture from the Fringe programme where dance (and physical theatre) get 6 pages of entries, against 46 pages for theatre and 32 for comedy and revue. And as you look through, you can get quite depressed by the low number of things you tick off as possibly worth seeing. Of course the fringe is all about taking risks, seeing new things and lots of them too. But somehow dance does not seem to sell itself so well outside the main festival. Anyway on with the show and we dived in..
Shakti definitely gets the vote for the weirdest dance experience for some time. Hailing from Japan and obviously trained in some form of oriental dance, she promised a "Swan Lake unlike any you've seen.... From the muddy lake within us the white swan screams - pure desire beckons. Amidst the turmoil a new creature is born - the ultimate illusion, glittering and reflecting all of love and death, agony and ecstasy!". Well I suppose you can't say we hadn't been warned.
In reality you get a semi-naked, rather short and stocky exotic dancer, occasionally joined by two other dancers, who if it were a comedy show (perhaps it was) would be called the 'straight men'. There is a lot of gyrating hips, there is a lot of turning and some rump presentation, some fire and rotating mirrors, and lots of frantic head movements with long hair flying everywhere in sexual abandon. And there is the odd oriental hand movement of amazing subtlety. And all to some of Tchaikovsky's finest and most memorable tunes.
Of course no show worth its salt would be complete without costume changes, though it's hard to think of Lurex sufficient only to cover a nipple or two as a costume. Surprisingly it was all rather un-erotic - though I have to admit I don't really go to erotic shows, so who am I to judge?!
Everybody in the audience seemed to be rather stunned by the event - was this real or a dream? Come the end, there was polite applause - we are British for goodness' sake, have to clap. What else to do when one is acutely embarrassed for the poor girl. But it wasn't the end, oh no. Shakti then goes on to tell us a little about her philosophy which seems to boil down to the fact that we are all too repressed and we ought to let ourselves grow our erotic halves. We all looked for a hint of a joke, a sly smile perhaps. Not a flicker. Even more embarrassed, and possibly to our shame, we all clapped again.
But all that said, I'm glad I went and would go again. For the avoidance of doubt that's not for the erotic content, which I found more embarrassing than anything, but more to try and understand what on earth is going on here. I'm still haunted by the thought that this might just be a superb double-bluff, rather in the style of some of the major TV preachers one sees on television in the States (and who subsequently have become discredited for this or that sexual impropriety). Shakti now seems to be involved in a tour of the UK along with some other Japanese acts which appeared at Edinburgh this year. It's not really dance but I reckon you should still go if you can.
Another vaguely embarrassing experience, with American overtones, was Frantic Redhead Productions "Once upon a time..." (Randolph Studio) performed by 5 students from the professional dance faculty, College of Fine Arts at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. It was billed as a mixture of jazz, ballet and modern dance and there were 7 short pieces in all, presented on a beat-up stage that was perhaps 20 ft by 12 ft - tiny.
The performance started with a spoken introduction by all 5 dancers. It seemed in the style of an Oscar nomination - vacuous words delivered confidently and with total and absolute sincerity. Perhaps all American performing arts students have lessons in how to deliver an Oscar every day? The performance closed with more words from each of them - apparently everybody can make their dreams come true and if your dream is to become a dancer then you can fulfil that dream for sure. Um... we all thought in the audience of 10 as we sneakily looked at each other and concluded that perhaps one of us might have believed and also been young (and slim) enough to still dream stuff like this. The dancing itself was not particularly clever or technically slick and I must have blinked and missed the odd ballet step. It was rather 'middle-of-the-road', not too challenging at any level or not so enjoyable either. They need to cut the words and get some good choreography. But full marks for confidence...
For us the biggest dance disappointment on the fringe was Destino Tango at the Graffiti. It was held in what appeared to be a large, instantly erected farm shed, which having been put up especially should have been ideal for dance. In reality it was appalling, and unless you were in the front row only about the rear third of the stage was decently visible. Of course the performers want to be middle or front stage so we saw the top halves of the dancers, but the legs - where all the action is in Tango of course - remained totally hidden. Not so the band who were on a podium and clearly seen by everybody! Bloody annoying and so unnecessary. But worse, the 5 dancers, 2 girls and 3 boys, were not really particularly good. They all looked young and as if they knew the steps, but had no tango soul at all. And the dancers were only on stage for about half the time as well - every other number just seemed to be the band. They were fine enough, but not really why people had come. One or two people walked out early (the only time we saw this in the 10 shows we saw in Edinburgh) and we slipped out too.
The hit was Theatre Talipot and "The Water Carriers", playing at St Bride's. It had been well reviewed - "You shouldn't live without seeing this show" (The Scotsman) etc and was returning for a second year. It's performed by a group of 4 dancers from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and is about the spiritual power of water - or rather the lack of it at times. There is mime and song in there and it's not clear that any of it is particularly based on 'real' Reunion Island dance or theatre. But it's been skillfully put together and wafts you along in its power. The theatrical side of what they do is superb and you are moved by some powerful acting - other dancers could learn a lot from them. The opening was especialy good as they mime a group of monkeys looking for water and immediately won us over with their charm and wit. But none of it was sentimental or silly and we all went home humming some of the tunes - what singers they were too. The location needs a good plug as well. St Bride's is unusual in really being a bus ride away from central Edinburgh, but it's worth the effort to get there especially for dance where everybody had a good view of what was going on (in the layout of seats and stage it was rather like The Riverside and The Place). Excellent and we look forward to seeing more there next year.
The other hit, but this time from the physical theatre side, was Cirque Eloize in the Big Top at the Meadows. It's a handful of circus performers - 10 or so including the musicians - from Canada. The circus is mainly acrobatics, trick cycling, juggling and clowning etc and not an animal in sight: it proved a most delightful way to while away the afternoon along with lots of happy kids. There was candy-floss everywhere....
It charmed because it was almost like seeing an extended family perform - you had no feeling of the separateness of the performers as everybody mucked in and helped everybody else. As a complete show it was well timed and there were running threads as some 'fell-out' with each other and repaid grudges later. Some acts are obviously still growing and changing shape as they perform, so occasionally something would not work-out. But that only seemed to make us warm to them, as a family, even more. Highly recommended and due in London at some time.
Overall I reckon some good dancers (ballet or otherwise) could make a great name for themselves by just being technically competent and having some reasobanle choreography. It would be nice if one or two of the student shows that tour (Ballet Gas Central or Images of Dance) could do a few nights for example. And promising young choreographers should be beating a path to doors up there. If they can come from Nevada and put on a show why not from a few hundred miles down the M6?