DANCE BASE (VENUE 22)
AS THE old saying goes, it's not what you've got, it's what you do with it that counts. A huge amount of breakdance and hip-hop talent has descended on Edinburgh this August, not all of whom use their skills to the best of their ability. The past few years have seen a sharp rise in the number of companies producing this kind of work, most of whom realise that spinning on your head just isn't enough anymore. Breakdance is undergoing a transformation, from street battle to theatre show, and the versatility and joy of the artform is witnessed in all its glory at this year's Fringe.
Korea is widely regarded as the breeding ground for some of the world's finest breakdancers, and several of their crews are currently in our midst. Most hyped of all is Maximum Crew, who profess to be one of their country's hottest exponents. There's no disputing these guys can perform some thrilling manoeuvres, but too much of their hour-long show feels like padding. With very little structure to hold them together, the breathtaking moves are undermined by what can only be described as glorified disco dancing. While, bizarrely, the guys with the genuine talent seem to take a back seat to the less able ones.
Also from Korea, the Last For One company has similar moves at its disposal but takes a completely different route. Spin Odyssey is Greek myth meets slapstick, with a video backdrop, dramatic music and lots of costume changes. The production values could do with a polish, and the inherent silliness makes this show more appealing for kids than adults, but the freestyle encore gives the cast a real chance to shine. While the slapstick and toilet humour doesn't always hit the spot, the display of popping, locking, windmills and L-kicks is superb.
Proving that breakdance skills and a well-structured narrative can live happily together is Ballerina Who Loves A B-Boy. This show has been touring Korea for the past two years, sending audiences into appreciative frenzies. Inside a ballet studio, a prim young girl practices at the barre. Outside in the town square, a large breakdance crew battles noisily. Slowly, their worlds collide and prejudices between the two dance genres are forgotten.
The large ensemble cast here is phenomenal, blending incredible breakdance moves with funky streetdance and, of course, ballet. Shoehorned into a back room of the Hilton, Ballerina Who Loves A B-Boy really deserves a bigger space, but given the effort expended to get them to Edinburgh at all, we're lucky to have them. Undoubtedly one of the hot tickets of this year's Fringe dance programme.
Representing the UK in the hip-hop arena are three companies taking very different approaches. None of these performers can claim the breakdance skills of the Koreans, but their decision to work with the style in a fresh and interesting way is laudable.
Hereford-based company, 2FaCeD DaNcE started off as a youth group to keep young boys off the street and out of trouble. A few years later, they're blossoming into a bona fide dance company. Their show State of Matter blends contemporary dance and streetdance almost seamlessly, set against a backdrop of classical music and dance beats. The athletic young dancers may be several steps away from professional sheen, but the impressive commitment shown here means some of them could well make the journey.
HipHopScotch is part dance and music show, part history lesson. Performed by new Scottish company, Moving In Circles, the show takes us back to the birth of hip-hop, making connections with Scotland along the way. Likening the breakdance battles of the Bronx to warring Highlanders, the young company demonstrates a love of hip-hop coupled with pride in their nation. Kilts, bagpipes and saltires abound on stage, while a video screen shows vintage footage of 1970s America.
If there's a complaint to be made here, it's that the talent on stage get a woefully short amount of time to strut their stuff. The breakdancers, bagpipe player, DJ and beatboxer (all of whom are aged 18 or under) deserve our attention much more than the old scenes of ceilidh dances and block parties. For a debut outing, however, this show does signal the arrival of a fresh new company on the Scottish dance scene.
Far more established are the very wonderful Zoo Nation, who return to Edinburgh with their 2006 hit, Into The Hoods. Housed in a bigger venue, the show benefits from a more theatrical approach to last year. Other than that, however, nothing has changed - because as all good companies know, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Inspired by Stephen Sondheim's musical, Into The Woods, this show is a joy from start to finish. The hugely talented cast of actor/dancers slowly work their way into our affections, until we never want them to leave. Life on the Ruff Endz Estate is shaken up by the arrival of two children, who meet a lively bunch of tower block residents drawn from fairytales. Lil Red, Spindarella, Prince, Wolf, Rap un Zel and Giant all live on different floors, with Jaxx in the basement.
The show's intelligent mix of humour and pathos means all the characters are fully rounded, and we genuinely care how they end up. Most impressive of all is the astute music selection. Virtually replacing the need for dialogue, the songs say it all - from Whitney Houston to Massive Attack to Prince, via a choice selection of dance and hip-hop tunes.
Hip-hop and breakdance don't need a narrative to work - an artistic use of skills is more than enough to carry a show. With Ballerina Who Loves A B-Boy and Into The Hoods the frontrunners at this year's Fringe, however, it seems that good characterisation goes a long way, whatever the genre.
Maximum Crew until 27 August, today at 7pm. Spin Odyssey until 27 August, today at 4.40pm. State of Matter until 18 August, today at 1pm. HipHopScotch until 18 August, today at 10.30am. Ballerina Who Loves A B-Boy until 24 August, today at 7.45pm. Into The Hoods until 27 August, today at 7.30pm.