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Edinburgh Festival Report

Shakti, Emio Greco, Imagine Dance Theatre, Royal Ballet of Flanders, College of Fine Arts, Uiversity of Nevada, Madam Galina, Lament Dance

August 2002
Edinburgh, various venues

by Trog


recent Shakti reviews

recent Emio Greco reviews

recent Imagina DC reviews

Flanders 'Swan Lake' reviews

recent Iestyn Edwards reviews
(Madame Galina)

recent LamatDance reviews

College of Fine Arts reviews

more Trog reviews




As usual with the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, you have to take the rough with the smooth. The highs were very high and the lows very low indeed. I try to see as much dance and physical theatre as possible; basically if advertised in the program as containing dance I will go and see the show. Hence this will be all about dance, but with a couple of other shows thrown in along the way.

Giannandrea Poesio 'Swan Lake' talk
Tuesday 20th August My first event was a lecture "Versions of Swan Lake" that was given by Giannandrea Poesio, lecturer in dance at University of Surrey(?). Clearly this chap knows his stuff and adores Swan Lake; he admitted to having seen it 700 times (and I thought I was obsessed). He described the ballet as controversial, mostly (I think) because the end of the libretto is missing and because the production has been reworked many times. He mentioned reworkings by Bejart, Ek, and Preljocaj as well as "preservations" by the Kirov and the Royal Ballet. I managed to get in a quick comment about Shakti's version (a total reworking in which Odette/Odile is really a wild swan), but overall I learned nothing new.

Shakti I
(there are more reports below)
Next it was off to The Garage (a venue I was destined to spend a lot of time at) to see Shakti in "Empire Of The Senses". For those of you who don't know Shakti, she is a regular fixture at the Fringe, where she presents fast paced works combining many dance forms; ballet, kathak, Martha Graham style, etc. She (generally) performs while not wearing very much (in one of her shows "The Pillow Book" just paint). Some view her work as pornographic, others as erotic. I see neither, just a women who enjoys bringing her view of the world to the stage in both dance and words; you always get a bit of spoken Shakti philosophy at the end of the performance.

"Empire of the Senses" is performed with video projections, which are both scenery and an actual piece of the work. The equipment is at the front of the stage, so some of the image is visible on Shakti's costume and body. The projections divide the work into five sections; clouds, stars, the desert, lightning and a volcano. The musical score is almost Vangelis like in parts, very lush with lots of electronic organ and melatronic vocals.

As you enter, Shakti is standing at the back of the stage, on a dais clad in a white chiffon robe. There are four long side drops in two colours, directing your gaze towards her. Later, these fabric drops form an integral part of the performance. The white robe is a wonderful image; she floats through the projected clouds. Similar use of related colour is used in the other images; a black barely there bikini for the night sky, a red coat for the desert.

She takes the side banners, and wraps herself in them. She also lies on them and winds them around her feet. The images do not describe well sadly.

The piece represents our affinity with nature. We are part of it. I didn't think this was as vibrant a piece as some of her previous works, such as "Swan Lake" and "Women Of The Dunes", but I was entertained and I would be prepared to see the work again (a good measure of the success of a work).

Emio Greco PC
The final viewing planned for that day was "Rimasto Orfano" performed by Emio Greco PC at the Festival Theatre. This is a company that I was not familiar with, but they have received good reviews from previous visits, so I decided to give them a spin. MISTAKE! This work is the most pretentious piece of twaddle that I have ever seen. A new measure of what is bad! Had I not been trapped in the centre of the row, I would have walked out.

If you like your dance without movement, then this is a work you will adore. Clearly most of the audience like to see people doing nothing on stage, judging by the thunderous applause at the end.

The work opens with a woman in a long white sack cloth robe. This was the same costume that the other 5? dancers wore. She spends 5 minutes walking to from upstage left, to a light globe hanging in the centre of the stage. As she nears, this illuminates and the house lights fade. She mutters some unintelligible words. A couple of chaps wander on. They wave their arms wildly, pretending to be aeroplanes, playing the old children's game of rubbing your tummy and patting your heard.

From then until the end, I spent most of the time reading my magazine. Luckily the all white backdrops, costumes and lighting provided enough illumination for me to do so. Very inspired design! Like I said, I would have walked out, but I don't like to disturb people. Interestingly the lady next to me was also attempting to read my magazine.

There were a couple of balletic movements, all on demi-pointe. A single, double and triple finger pirouette and later 48 fouettés. Overall it lacked structure, the music was tuneless (lots of sirens) and a waste of time. At one point during the performance, Mr Greco bangs his head on the floor, as if expressing my opinion at being stuck in the theatre.

Listening to the conversations in the audience as I was leaving was the most entertaining part of the performance. I heard things like "pure genius" (maybe he was describing his beverage?), "stillness is the future of dance" (didn't Doris Humphrey explore this?) and "bollox, complete and utter bollox" (a view with which I fully concur!).

Having totally depressed myself, I had two choices. Do I go back to the hotel or see something else to cheer myself up? Well Shakti was on in 45 minutes, so the decision was made.

Shakto II
(there are more reports below)

Back to The Garage for the second of Shakti's works "Realm Of Desire". This is the one that has been written about in the press, no doubt because of the bondage gear, whips and chains. This work is about desire, probably but not necessarily, sexual desire. Desire exists in us all. As Shakti says at the end, the Realm Of Desire is a secret room within us all, hidden from view. There are two parts to desire, pleasure and pain, good and bad, yin and yang.

The work is viewed largely through three venetian blinds. Some have suggested that this is like watching a stripper in a peep show. Well yes, the lighting is mostly red (incredibly subtle design!) but the blinds are there to show that desire is secret. We all catch a peep into the world of others desires. Shakti says to get your desires into the open; we are, after all, animals.

The work features all usual sexy Shakti magic. We get the powerful foot stamps of the kathak dancer, the kneeling side lunges with the arched back and the whirling dervish-like long back hair. This is a very intense work. She performs with two other women dancers; I have seen them before, sometimes in the audience, sometimes on stage with her. They are demurely clad in black leotards (with a leather top), leaving Shakti to display her usual acres of flesh.

The music is very intense too, full on 160 bpm techo. Not exactly my cup of tea, but is works well with the piece and it is not annoying. One of the nice things about seeing Shakti at The Garage is she and her dancers stand by the door as you leave to thank you for attending. If you are lucky, you can speak to her, which I did. Exclusive to ballet.co (from Shakti's own lips).... her "Swan Lake" will be back one day; this is a must see (IMO). She held my hand as she told me this; I still haven't washed it!

A diversion...
Wednesday 21st August I "did" some art exhibitions in the morning, the big one being "Forbidden City, Treasures of an Emperor". This comprises artworks from the Qianlong Emperor's personal collections, two-thirds of which have never been seen outside China. I found the works interesting but I was not moved by their beauty or execution. I'm more of an Impressionist and Pre-Raphelite fan.

Imagina Dance Theatre
The first dance of the day was "Falling Angel, Rising Ape" by Imagina Dance Theatre. This work questions our human identity through dance, mime, martial arts, circus and puppetry. Sounds interesting? Well only one section is interesting. The work opens with a dancer lying on her back, feet in the air, crocheting a long ribbon of wool, which runs off to the stage. After the house lights go down, she performs a slow, rhythmic dance, with sand pouring from her sleeves and trouser legs. Nice idea, but she should have used the sand more. (Wilson, Keppel and Betty being an obvious source of inspiration.)

The second movement consisted of one of those new-fashioned non-moving pieces. A chap sits in a chair and eventually stands up. Excitement being provided by him dribbling some water and opening an umbrella filled with flour.

Finally we get to the good bit, a duet between a girl and a life size adrongenous puppet all in white, controlled by a person in black. The puppet was beautifully simple; a head, an arm with hand and a long robe. The other arm was there, dangling. The piece starts with the puppet performing the same movements as the girl. Later they interact, whisper things to each other, dance together and leave. I wasn't sure if this was a chance meeting between two lost souls or a meeting of two friends. The piece is very simple, but unbelievably effective.

The final two movements had the whole company (8 I believe), dancing firstly around a red door, with a large hole in it, through which arms and heads were thrust. Later we had them holding up sheets, wrapping themselves and waving the sheets about. One looked a little like the Frankenstein monster.

The relevance of the title? Well the Angel part is obvious (the puppet). The ape reference appeared to be the song "Misery Is The River" by Tom Waits; His vocals make the word "misery" sound like "monkey".

Royal Ballet of Flanders 'Swan Lake'
Finally we get to the big one "Swan Lake" at the Playhouse. Lynette Halewood has reviewed this elsewhere very comprehensively, and I concur with much of what she said. The opening sequence with the owl's eye projection in which we can see the princess Odette, and in blink of the owl’s eye she is transformed into a swan, is a truly splendid piece of theatre.

AD Robert Denvers and choreographer Jan Fabre wanted to put a new slant on the Swan Lake story. Fabre was given free reign, but told not to touch Acts 2 and 3. His reworking is limited to the introduction of some pointless characters who wander on and off set and do nothing else (with one exception). We get a chap having a perpetual epileptic fit, a man in armour with antennae, the Plague Doctor (who for a long time I thought was Rothbart, due to his beak) and the dwarf (who butchers the swans). As a reworking this is pointless; there is no new slant on the story. It is all there, as per usual. Act 1 does contain the Queen telling Siggy to get married, Act 2 does have the swans arriving at the lake and turning into young women, Act 3 is the party, with the six princesses and the arrival of Odile, and Act 4 is the fight at the lake with Rothbart, and the subsequent demise of the couple.

Mathew Bourne's reworking is more radical, and that production still has the lake, the queen, the swans, and the arrival if the stranger to besot Prince Siggy. The most radical reworking I have seen is the aforementioned one women version by Shakti, in which she is Odette/Odile, and a wild swan all at once. The choreography and staging in this (Fabre's) production are quite tame.

All the "good" bits of Swan Lake are present; we get the three big swans (but they don't do their series of backward travelling temps levé), the four cygnets (whose linked arm bit has been moved to Act 4, and is performed to a slow piece of music, and thus contains no batterié), and we get 32 fouetté en tourant (but to the wrong music).

Across the back of the stage is a large trough of water. The knights mentioned in Lynette H's review wring their hankies out in it. I was very much hoping we would see the corps in the water. It would have been nice to have seen perhaps a series of pas de chat by the cygnets across the stage, splashing away merrily. This may sound silly, but no sillier than lowering mounted skeletons on stage.

The corps did a splendid job with uninspired choreography. They are very together and move as one. At one point we get six knights in full armour performing tour en l'air. Well done chaps!! There was no music for this sequence, the clang of the armour providing natural percussive accompaniment. The other highlight was the Jester, a role generally consigned to the bin. He is a very strong dancer, and we really did stay in the air during his ballon.

One final comment. Since when does Bottom appear in Swan Lake? Oh yes, the work needs an interval too; many of us need a comfort stop in a long ballet. Others may well need some Dutch courage to get through the second half! One final, final comment. I found the squawking owl a pleasant distraction.

College of Fine Arts, Uni of Nevada, company
Thursday 22nd August Back to The Garage, for "Dancescape III" by College of Fine Arts, University of Nevada. This is an ensemble piece (i.e. disjointed collection) combining, movement, humour, jazz, ballet and modern dance. The opening piece being the strongest, consisting of five figures in large lycra bags (very Martha Graham). They rolled over one another, combined into shapes, separated and recombined. Bit like a living lava lamp, but on the floor instead of in the air. There was also some belly dancing, a chap performing a solo with a heart cushion, a funny piece about a secretary (to a jazz score) and the usual contemporary nonsense. Lots of energy by the attractive cast.

Robert Denvers and Donald Hutera in conversation
Next it was "Conversations" with Robert Denvers and Donald Hutera. Boy can Robert Denvers rant on. He would make a good filibuster. Some of what he said was informative. It was here that I learned Fabre had been given free reign for Acts 1 and 3, and told to leave Act 2 and 4 alone. He mentioned one device that was expunged from the production. During Act 3, as Siegfried is presented with each Princess, their escorts were supposed to have a parrot on their shoulders. The dwarf was to remove these one by one, and place them on a perch, in the shape of a tree. They had the parrots trained, but the birds would only sit on a left shoulder. Symmetry demands half be on a right shoulder. Next it was decided there would be one parrot, sitting on the dwarf's shoulder. It was decided that the audience would spend too much time watching the parrot, so the birds were dropped. Shame, as I would have liked to have heard the parrots competing in the vocal stakes with the owl and the orchestra. (Our own, superb as always, Royal Ballet Sinfonia.)

Shakti III
My final event for the day was back to (yes that's right) The Garage for my second dose of "Realm Of Desire". During this second viewing, I noticed the superb sense of timing Shakti possesses, as do her two dancers. The moves are on the beat, the hand/leg/arm/etc is where it should be. In every respect this was identical to the previous performance. You need to be very flexible and very strong to perform some of the big sweeping movements she performs, especially at the speed with which she does them.

Apparently Shakti ran a masterclass in her techniques the previous week. I wonder if I could have gained a place? I would love to learn the secret of the fast lie backs. I've tried them and I can't get anywhere near her speed. Mind you I am Mr Inflexible.

Just for a change I was back at The Garage for Shakti in "Empire Of The Senses". There was a minor technical hitch at the start; the projections didn't work, leaving Shakti standing there holding her arm up for a good five minutes. Never trust technology. Watching this performance really brought home the dramatics of the piece. The effect is stunning when she walks into the desert and into the volcano. I will be purchasing the video of this, assuming she releases one.

Pocket Musical Theatre Company
Saturday 24th August For those of you still with me, this is the last day. I opened with "Zipp!" by Pocket Musical Theatre Company. This production played to packed houses every day, and featured 100 musicals in 90 minutes. Not just a collection of songs (that would be boring), but interspersed with jokes. You get all the show stopping numbers, without the tedium of the intervening show. If you like musicals this is a real treat. If you don't like a particular musical, don't worry, as another will be along in a minute. If you don't like musicals, then this is for you too, as you can get them all out of the way in one fowl swoop.

Presented by Gyles Brandreth (former MP) and four others this is a show to die for. To quote Kate Copstick of The Scotsman "Apart from Gyles (your life is incomplete without delighting in Mr Brandreth’s interpretation of Mame and Dolly simultaneously), we have Claire-Marie Johnson, a willowy soubrette with an amazing top end to her voice that only labradors can enjoy, Amanda Symonds, a siren so sassy she makes other red-hot mamas look like popsicles, and the little butterball of musical joy that is Andrew C Wadworth. Linda Lovelace may have had her clitoris in her throat but Wadsworth’s voice is truly orgasmic. Stuart Barr is at the piano and occasionally in a paper bag. I am still looking for my socks, which he blew off with his vocals in Jesus Christ Superstar." (Linda Lovelace is a reference to another show that was on at the fringe.)

The complete works of Andrew Lloyd Weber in 60 seconds, a great reference to "The Vagina Monologues" and a song from "Bombay Dreams", what more can you ask for? I laughed till I cried. I want to see this again.

Iestyn Edwards - Madame Galina
Back to the world of ballet next with "Madame Galina - Ballet Star Galactica". Madame Galina is back to give a masterclass. Of course, she admits, she does not have the ideal body for dance; her back is too long and her legs curve the wrong way. The fact that her waist measurement goes a long way to answering that question, "who ate all the pies", doesn’t help either. She begins by teaching a port de bras, carefully explaining the difference between the Kirov and Bolshoi ballets.

She demonstrates her skills in the dance, and then auditions three unlikely pas de deux partners. She selects one and performs some finger pirouettes. She can get doubles without being turned out and without being pulled up. I reckon I saw a triple too; perhaps there is hope for me yet (who once managed a 1 1/2). She dances the mad scene from Giselle; it is seldom madder than this. We are also treated to a potted version of Swan Lake and Le Bayadere. Not bad eh? Three classical ballets for a fiver. Finally she bedazzles us with a full 32 fouettés, again without turnout. What would Miss say? I am going to have words with my teacher next class! After all if the great Madame Galina can get away with no technique, Trog can too.

Mildly amusing.

LamatDance
Finally "Journey" by LamatDance. Advertised as "A physical, powerful and sensual triple bill of dance. Presents an insight of the intimacy of women through the passion and rhythm of flamenco and the abstraction of contemporary dance." This was presented by four young women. The opening piece was the strongest, presented in black leggings and black tops with occasional long black skirts. It flows well and is almost balletic in parts. No story, but nice shapes and floor patterns.

The second piece is a duet with the dancers in red. A very typical contemporary piece, it started, went nowhere and stopped. Finally another piece for the four dancers, investigating things; a flower pot, a water bottle, a radio etc. Again went nowhere.

In all three pieces the promised flamenco was nowhere to be seen.


So here endeth my Edinburgh diary. The main festival was not terribly exciting this year, and the Fringe offered the usual range of entertainment. I was entertained, bored, disgusted, astonished, lifted, dropped and touched by the hand of Shakti. A good time indeed.



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