Edinburgh Festival Fringe dance, physical theatre & circus reviews: The Maids | AFTER ALL | Lucky Pigeons | Beyond Boundaries | An Ice Thing to Say

Among our latest dance reviews: a chilling Genet adaptation, a tongue-in-cheek reflection on death, and a celebration of one of nature’s least charismatic birds

The Maids ****

Assembly George Square Gardens (Venue 17) until 27 August

MOO SOO Theatre adapts Jean Genet’s Les bonnes with chilling flair. In The Maids, Eun ji Lim and Eseul Kim play maidservants Solange and Claire. Both are highly expressive in their movements (so much is said with the slightest flicker in their features) as they teeter between physical displays of camaraderie and competitiveness.

The MaidsThe Maids
The Maids

Though the piece is told in Korean, Solange and Claire’s predominant language is one of silence. When music is played, it creates an atmosphere of playfulness and misadventure. The pair dispense with their dusters, escaping from their uniforms, slipping quickly into Madame’s clothes. A white sheet is torn from the washing line. There is the tolling of a curfew bell.

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They take it in turns to be Madame. They flinch at intervals, fear in their faces, eyes boring into the shadows, bowing to an authority only they can see. The action is taut with the constant threat of violence. Everything Solange and Claire touch is a weapon, and they are always in the firing line. They might be caught at any moment. It is like watching a loaded gun.

Now, silences ache with the sounds that have preceded them. Who knew that so much suspense could be contained in a knowing smile? They clean the stage with soapy water, and when they begin to wash themselves, it is as if they are using their own tools to perform some kind of trick or transformation.

Perhaps they will emerge purer, improved – like Madame. The idea is deeply unsettling, the spell broken only as the complexities of their shared circumstances reach their peak, and are made manifest in a literal tug of war. Everywhere, water. Slowly, they relent, resuming their usual routines, and the white sheet, once a symbol of their rebellion, is now coiled in a sign of surrender. Josephine Balfour-Oatts


Dance Base (Venue 22) until 27 August

As a nation, talking about death doesn’t come easily – and especially not our own. But perhaps if we invited Solène Weinachter round for coffee, the whole thing would become much more palatable. Known for her work with Scottish Dance Theatre and Ben Duke, among others, Weinachter regularly brings text and movement together. And while the dance world in general is not always known for its spoken-word successes, Weinachter hits the spot every time. A supremely competent actor as well as dancer, she has an easy way with audiences and an intelligent wit that’s nothing short of beguiling.

This latest venture was inspired by her late uncle’s death, and subsequent funeral. Organised logistically but perhaps not creatively, decisions about music and eulogies were left unmade – leaving Weinachter to question what her own funeral might look like. In other hands, what follows could feel arrogant or self-indulgent, as we’re encouraged to celebrate how wonderful she is/was.

But it’s all done with its tongue so firmly in its cheek that it evokes nothing but warmth from the audience. Partly because a world without Weinachter in it would indeed be poorer – but mostly because it’s all delivered with a healthy dose of silliness. A short film, shot for her mock funeral, is dripping with ironic sentimentality, while a half-time costume change takes us into the realm of 1970s disco. An extended moment of crying starts to feel too laboured and could probably use a trim, but again it makes a statement about our discomfort with grief.

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Weinachter may seem like a one-woman band, but there’s a sizeable creative team behind AFTER ALL, and it shows. Each played their part in the tightness and accessibility of this enjoyable solo that leaves you entertained, and just that little bit more comfortable with planning your own funeral. Kelly Apter

Lucky Pigeons ***

Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows (Venue 360) until 26 August

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If you were asked to name charismatic animals, pigeons would probably be low on your list – definitely above, say, bushbabies and sea urchins, but below pretty much everything else. And yet, with their sequined costumes and breathtaking aerial skills, Fringe newcomers BrainFools are determined to give these unfairly maligned “sky rats” their day in the sun. Clad in feathery shorts and snapback hats designed to look like beaks, the troupe expertly tumble and flip their way across the fairly limited stage space in Underbelly’s Circus Hub. Each member of the cast gets ample opportunity to show off their solo skills – one juggles ever-increasing quantities of eggs, while another swings precariously through the air in a hoop – and there’s even an interpretative dance break set to the theme from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. However, the show definitely takes a while to build up momentum, especially for the younger members of the audience. The crowd work at the start is enjoyable, but repeated attempts to construct a plot only serve to detract precious time from impressive acrobatic numbers. By the end, though, the team has won us over with their cooing and flapping – you’ll leave the tent with a newfound appreciation for our grimy feathered friends. Ariane Branigan

Beyond Boundaries ***

Dance Base (Venue 22) until 27 August

Once the domain of flips and tricks, hip-hop dance has more than proved itself as a catalyst for emotional expression. These three short works exemplify how the coming together of dynamic street dance styles and dramatic narrative can connect with an audience in all manner of ways.

Featuring two solos and a duet, Beyond Boundaries also feels like a deeply personal cultural exchange – both geographically, and between humans and technology. French-born dancer Dorine Mugisha has arm moves that are fast and furious, propelled by a powerful body and even more powerful desire to convey people’s wrongful assumptions of her.

The same frustrations can be found in Nevil Jose and Ursula Manandhar’s duet, as they journey from the restrictions of cultural expectations into the joy of self-determined freedom, while Max Evans’s amusing piece finds him looking for love in the arms of artificial intelligence, with the inevitable lack of fulfilment. Switching between a pleasure-filled dream-like state and exasperation, his fluid movement holds your gaze.

Not everything in this triple-bill is delivered as sharply as it might be, both choreographically and textually, but as a jumping-off point, these engaging dance artists are more than worthy of attention. Kelly Apter

An Ice Thing to Say *

Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 209) until 26 August

Despite an “ice installation” being mentioned in this show’s description, this is in fact false advertising. There’s no ice, just plates of pomegranates, some chopped-up meat, blobs of red paint, three performers covered in white paper overalls, and a polar bear puppet looking a bit worse for wear.

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The choreography is combative and mildly interesting, but essentially this is a collection of ideas about climate change poorly communicated. Vertebra Theatre may have been thinking about the environment when they were making this show, but they certainly weren’t considering their audience. Kelly Apter