Edinburgh Festival Fringe dance reviews: Bold Moves | Beats On Pointe | We Should Be Dancing | Ballet Freedom | In-Ward
From a glorious double bill from Ballet Ireland to some less convincing bump and grind from the Freedom Ballet of Ukraine, Kelly Apter surveys Fringe dance shows
Bold Moves ****
Dance Base, until 14 August
Don’t be misled by the title – compared to some of the more avant-garde works on display at Dance Base this August, Ballet Ireland’s show is positively mainstream. A glorious double bill that brings classical ballet up close and personal, Bold Moves combines the work of two female choreographers, each at differing stages in their careers. Performed by seven top-notch dancers, who combine strong technical ability with a real sense of individuality, their works couldn’t be more emotionally opposed.
US by Zoë Ashe-Browne explores the connections artists make when they are away from home. The dynamic shifts as they attempt friendliness but are pushed away, then bond close relationships that help them through the toughest of times. Unafraid to pull on the heartstrings, Ashe-Browne includes a delicate storyline of loss that rallies the whole group around a bereaved couple. While her musical choices, featuring the likes of Max Richter and Ólafur Arnalds, also serve to keep our hearts engaged.
By complete contrast, seasoned choreographer Marguerite Donlon has us smiling with ease during Strokes through the Tail. Set to, and inspired by, Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, the piece is both dapper and edgy with dancers dressed in tailcoats but wearing nothing but pants underneath. Each one of Mozart’s notes is embraced with grace and energy, the dancers spinning, jumping and striding across the stage like music in motion.
Swapping the tails for tutus, there are shades of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, but this is a work that basks in its own glory. Perhaps most joyously of all, the dancers look as if they’re having as much fun performing it as we are watching it.
Beats On Pointe ****
Assembly Hall, until 28 August
Sometimes dance breaks boundaries, sometimes it delves deep into your soul or makes a political statement. Other times, as with Beats on Pointe, it simply impresses, entertains and leaves it at that. Nothing this show has to offer goes beneath the surface, but it’s executed with such fantastic skill, passion and energy that you can’t help falling in love with it.
The central premise is a battle between hip hop and ballet, but the line quickly blurs as everyone pitches in to create the stage equivalent of a slick music video. Movement comes thick and fast without missing a beat as this likeable Australian troupe blasts its way through a jukebox of chart hits from the past three decades. Oldies but goodies from Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson and Run-DMC rub shoulders with more modern tracks, but no song or routine overstays its welcome. In fact quite the opposite: most tunes last less than a minute.
A mix of street dance, commercial, ballet and contemporary, with a bit of beatboxing, body percussion, head-spinning and gymnastics thrown in, it’s a hotchpotch of styles that keeps the crowd revved up throughout. Each new routine arrives dressed in a different outfit, from everyday streetwear to tutus laced with luminous lights and sequin-encrusted pointe shoes.
In a show with no shortage of entertaining moments, special shout out goes to a clever sequence where the show’s resident breakdancer spins on his head surrounded by pirouetting ballerinas. And a nifty bit of moonwalking en pointe set to Billie Jean.
The show opens with a short speech about how much the performers love to dance, how it’s not just a job but central to their very being. Everything you see on stage during Beats On Pointe testifies to that.
We Should Be Dancing **
Dance Base, until 14 August
Some truly fascinating research has gone into this dance-theatre piece from Belgium. There’s also a salient lesson to take away about what we lose during the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Having watched pre-schoolers at play, the five dancers mimic their movements – the slow ponderings, the random runs, the sudden bursts of action. When footage of the children they studied is shown on screen, and we marry it up with what we’ve just witnessed on stage, the show exudes real warmth. But the repetition grows tiresome and, ultimately, the children are the stars of the show.
Ballet Freedom ***
Pleasance at EICC, until 28 August
For the first 20 minutes of this buoyant but puzzling piece of dance theatre from the Freedom Ballet of Ukraine, I attempted to find some kind of meaning. When none was forthcoming, I gave up and went along for the ride – which wasn’t always smooth.
The 12 dancers are all talented performers and the set (an enormous wardrobe that doubles as a doorway, shower, vestibule and handy storage space for a corpse or two) keeps on revealing new and unexpected things. A reworking of the company’s earlier show, Boudoir, Ballet Freedom may not have an intelligible storyline, but it most certainly has a theme – sex. From the costumes to the simulated copulation (not all of which appeared wanted by the female characters), it’s the only common thread. Ballet can be narrative or abstract, but at some point you really need to pick a team.
Understandably, and appropriately, there’s a lot of good will in the room for this company, and the audience responds warmly and heartily – especially when the Ukrainian flag is unfurled at the end. But there is a definite sense that more clarity, plot and emotional connection, and less pointless bumping and grinding, would have been welcome.
Assembly Roxy, until 17 August
As human beings, we do our best to rub along with the people around us, but some situations are easier than others. The five people who share the stage in In-Ward, an atmospheric blend of hip hop and contemporary dance by Montreal-based company Ebnflōh, know all about that. The central premise here is a group of people forced to live in a confined space – and they use a myriad of devices to avoid each other, physically and emotionally, including burying themselves deep inside their bright white hoodies. The dancers wander the space, seeking solitude but finding themselves sucked into each other’s energy.
Ironically, when they do come together – sitting on a bench or sharing a moment of fun – the show is elevated. Each dancer’s mastery of hip hop techniques is abundantly clear, and in the brief moments of synchronised choreography, there’s a real energy and tightness. There is no doubting the abilities of either the performers or choreographer Alexandra ‘Spicey’ Landé, but as an outside onlooker, making an emotional connection and finding a route to the inner world of these performers is a challenge.