The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is all about discovery and, in an ordinary year, a venue like Summerhall is a good place to broaden your horizons. Although there’s a blended approach this August, with some live shows playing in the ‘Secret Courtyard’, the bulk of Summerhall’s dance and physical theatre programme is online. Which, for me at least, has meant discovering the remarkable London-based artist Damilola K Fashola, or DK Fash as she’s known.
Quite why I haven’t heard of her before is a mystery, but I now want to see everything she’s ever done and everything she’ll ever do. A woman of many talents, it’s the work DK created as artistic director of Initiative.dkf that Summerhall is showing, with short film collections – Vol. 1 (*****) and Ludala Collection (****). Written, directed and choreographed by DK, they last barely half an hour in total but make their mark.
Vol. 1 opens with Power, two minutes of fast and furious, Beyoncé-driven female motion. It’s followed by Bump, a Jordan Peele-esque dive into the surreal, with animal masks and stylised movement creating a captivating horror film vibe. Thorns For A Crown closes the collection, with dancer Luke Wilson portraying a visual artist struggling to find inspiration.
After the intensity of Vol. 1, Ludala Collection offers us a whole different feeling. Ludala means ‘happiness’ or ‘joy’ in the Nigerian Yakurr dialect, and this celebration of Blackness is certainly joyful. In Gele, a mix of film and spoken word, a son watches in wonderment as his mother puts on a traditional African head tie. Endures, in which bodies mirror the shape of water, is just five minutes long but I loved every second of it. Fluid choreography performed by four dancers in an empty warehouse leaves us longing for more. Finally, Is Dat You YH? is a love letter to food in which a performance poet describes his intoxicating journey around South London.
It’s good to see Kathak choreographer Amina Khayyam back at the Fringe, after 2015’s impactful show Yerma. Her short film Catch the Bird Who Won't Fly (****) is based on real-life stories of domestic violence, and follows four people whose lives have been impacted by it.
A blend of animation and green screen technology, cleverly designed and shot by Louise Rhoades-Brown, the piece uses a flying bird motif to take us from run-down council flat to comfortable suburbia, showing that abuse has no fixed abode. The Kathak movement is at turns defensive, defiant and defeated in a moving work that, during one particularly strong scene, also shows the lasting impact on children who witness violence at home.
During a time when we spend more hours looking at a screen than ever before, Paper Doll Militia’s atmospheric exploration of modern relationships and the lure of online connection, A Wire Apart (***), feels pertinent.
A man and woman stand on two platforms – she’s trapped by an invisible force field, he’s tangled up in a web of electronic cables. Emerging from their confinement, they discover a single taut wire that links them. Some nifty tightrope waking later they’ve met and merged, but the lure of the iPhone ‘ting’ drives a wedge between them and before long she’s typing and swiping and he’s playing computer games.
A huge amount of creative thought has gone into how this piece is lit, shot and soundtracked, but on an emotional level it’s not always easy to remain invested. It can also be difficult to capture the excitement of aerial work on film, when all sense of height is lost. That said, the heart-warming ending is cute as a button.
Like aerial, clowning is a genre best viewed live, which is perhaps why Receptionists (***) is good rather than great. Inga Björn and Kristiina Tammisalo of Finland’s Kallo Collective are consummate performers, well-schooled in the art of physical expression. Their facial contortions alone are worth the ticket price, as they tackle the seemingly impossible task of staffing a hotel reception.
To hold the stage for an hour, with just a few props and very few words, is no small achievement. A nod of thanks goes to the directional help of Thomas Monckton (of 2019 Fringe hit Only Bones) and I suspect that, in person, this would genuinely be laugh-out-loud funny.
With companies showing a mix of dance films and filmed dance, Taiwan’s Tjimur Dance Theatre gives us a bit of both. Its new work, ai~sa sa (***), is named after a colloquial expression that roughly translates as ‘get over yourself’, leading to a light-hearted exploration of Taiwan’s Paiwan culture.
Using a blend of street, studio and stage locations, the piece has a colourful vibrancy that is quite beguiling. Choreographer Baru Madiljin first came to our attention at the 2018 Fringe, with his powerful work Varhung – Heart to Heart. ai~sa sa is less impactful, mainly due to the moments of slapstick-style comedy and references to local customs that are hard to connect with.
When the four dancers move as one however, especially in the outdoor and studio settings, they have a lot to offer. Set to a largely French-language soundtrack, the piece fluctuates from upbeat energy to thoughtful poignancy. And, as with all the companies Summerhall is supporting online this year, I look forward to feeling the energy of their live performance again one day.
Summerhall’s online dance programme is available until 29 August. https://www.summerhall.co.uk/sh-events/category/festival/festival-dance/
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