Edinburgh International Festival dance and music reviews: The Pulse | BBC Singers

Acrobatic dance spectacular The Pulse showcased beauty and fearlessness, says Kelly Apter, while the BBC Singers' programme of sacred and secular music from Britain and Scandinavia impressed Carol Main with its precision.

The Pulse. PIC: Darcy Grant.
The Pulse. PIC: Darcy Grant.

DANCE

The Pulse *****

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Playhouse, Edinburgh

The Pulse. PIC: Contributed.
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If you saw Edinburgh International Festival’s opening show Macro but missed The Pulse, or vice versa, then fear not – they are ostensibly the same show. Having had the opportunity to see both, and wishing no disrespect to Murrayfield Stadium, this incredible feat of human endeavour looks even more impressive on a theatrical stage.

Australian circus company Gravity & Other Myths first came to Edinburgh with ‘A Simple Space’, a small show that wowed audiences with its acrobatic finesse but was stripped to the bare bones. Oh, how they’ve grown. The Pulse could not be more different, with sumptuous lighting design that baths every inch of the enormous Playhouse stage, vocal accompaniment from the talented National Youth Choir of Scotland, an original score and almost 30 acrobats.

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The show is, in essence, a tribute to human connection and how we help each other grow. We can only imagine how many hours it takes to build up enough strength and trust to deliver the structural manoeuvres this show is replete with. The main act, returned to time and again, is the creation of multiple human towers with people balanced on each other’s shoulders.

Sometimes there are two of them, often three and at one point a gasp-inducing four. Standing still, this is achievement enough but they walk briskly and even run, each time finding ever more ingenious ways to break down the structure. Elsewhere, a human staircase, built by a sea of bodies and scaled and descended by one female performer is inventive, amusing and delicate all at once.

There is no shortage of acrobatic skills in the world of contemporary circus, and many of the flips, balances and throws seen here are replicated in other shows. But rarely is it elevated to such levels of beauty and fearlessness, by performers at the absolute top of their game. Kelly Apter

MUSIC

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BBC Singers ***

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

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The BBC Singers sing with remarkable precision, every vowel and consonant can be heard, tuning is spot on, but the combination of repertoire and venue didn’t allow their collective talents to be fully heard to best effect yesterday morning.

Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir was the central plank in a programme of sacred and secular music. For all that the Queen’s Hall was originally a church, its acoustic is not that of the expansive sort of sacred space in which Martin’s score deserves to be experienced. In a reworking of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending with mainly wordless chorus as the accompaniment, Laura Samuel’s violin soared exquisitely as the bird in flight, but with perplexing purpose to Paul Drayton’s arrangement, the vocal lines were dull and dreary.

Not so in the livelier final two Scandinavian items – Toil and Trouble by Cecilie Ore and Slängpolska Efter Byss-Kalle, a traditional Swedish tune arranged for choir by Hans Gardemar, and both conducted by Sofi Jeannin with infectious energy. Shakespeare’s legendary lines from Macbeth as a fast-paced rhythmic refrain were cleverly interspersed with more reflective extracts from his plays, ending poignantly with Hamlet’s final words, ‘the rest is silence.’ Carol Main