Dance review: Ali and Alpo, Summerhall, Edinburgh

Oud virtuoso Ali Alawad failed in his asylum bid and fled, leaving  only film footage for choreographer /dancerAlpo Aaltokoski to use. Picture: Contributed
Oud virtuoso Ali Alawad failed in his asylum bid and fled, leaving only film footage for choreographer /dancerAlpo Aaltokoski to use. Picture: Contributed
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The story behind this solo show is almost as poignant as the work itself.

Ali and Alpo, Summerhall, Edinburgh * * * *

For although Finnish dancer/choreographer Alpo Aaltokoski is alone on stage, this is in fact a two-hander.

Iraqi-born Ali Alawad, a virtuoso on the oud (a kind of Middle Eastern lute), travelled to Finland as an asylum seeker and began collaborating with Aaltokoski. But shortly before this show was due to premiere, the musician was threatened with repatriation and fled Finland.

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Forced to perform alone, Aaltokoski decided to dance alongside film footage of Alawad playing and singing. The result is deeply moving and, because they’re both so good at what they do, very entertaining.

At the age of 60, most dancers have said goodbye to the stage – but thankfully, Aaltokoski didn’t get the memo and kept on going. His style has the energy and intent of a younger dancer, the emotional maturity of an older performer, and it’s quite the combination.

Acknowledging the absence of his friend – and what Alawad had to leave behind in his homeland – Aaltokoski’s choreography is full of hope, longing and memory. He runs, clutches an invisible partner, holds out imploring hands, grabs manically at his head to pull out bad thoughts.

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Depending on where you sit in the theatre, the moments when the two men come together will have a different impact. Sit directly in front of the screen, and you’ll see them almost super-imposed on top of each other. Sit to the side and you see Aaltokoski dancing alone with his friend looking on.

It would, of course, have been preferable if Alawad had been able to remain in his adopted country, and travel to Edinburgh with Aaltokoski. Yet, although it feels wrong to admit it, his absence makes this piece even stronger, both theatrically and politically.

Until 25 August

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