Scot:Lands review: Wholly:Land | Neu:Land

Held on New Year’s Day as part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, Scot:Lands takes audiences on a treasure hunt-like journey through a series of venues in the Old Town, staging music, dance, film and more.

Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote, was in fine form at the Pleasance, as part of Three On This Is:Land. Picture: Neil Doig
Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote, was in fine form at the Pleasance, as part of Three On This Is:Land. Picture: Neil Doig

Wholly:Land - St Giles’ Cathedral

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Neu:Land - The Hub

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One of the benefits of watching a performance in the round is that your eyes can drink in more than the show itself. So although it was hard to avert your gaze from the beautiful movement of Wholly:Land, for a few brief seconds I was rewarded not only with the stunning architecture of St Giles’ Cathedral but also the smiles of people watching it.

The Scot:Lands programme welcomes all-comers, many of whom will not be regular attendees to dance. So to see Steinvor Palsson’s joyful, graceful and emotionally rich choreography reach such a wide audience was a gift in itself.

Much like the poem it was inspired by (Hugh MacDiarmid’s Scotland), Palsson’s new piece encouraged us to embrace all, not just part, of ourselves. Starting near the Cathedral entrance, with the spirit of discovery in their eyes, the five dancers moved through the building, the poignant solo cello of Atzi Muramatsu and ecclesiastical power of Michael Harris on the organ, calling the audience from one space to the next.

Although contemporary in delivery, Palsson’s movement – and its execution – was steeped in history. A nod to early Renaissance court dances and classical ballet gave the piece a refined elegance, aided by the music of Messaien, Bach and Muramatsu himself.

Almost ethereal at times, the dancers brought us back to Earth for the final section, when the raw emotion of human relationships was allowed to surface.

Meanwhile, over at Neu:Land a “cabaret of life” was taking place. Edinburgh arts collective Neu! Reekie! took over a room in The Hub and proved those exclamation marks are fully justified.

Although the lead singer of TeenCanteen joked that after Hogmanay “nothing happens here till August,” Neu:Land was proof that 365 days a year, Edinburgh is home to some serious creativity.

As with all the Scot:Land events, it was impossible to see it all – but the sheer variety on offer here meant even a brief visit paid dividends. A blast of indie pop from the aforementioned TeenCanteen reminded us how dominated by males this genre is, by being refreshingly all-female and full of potential.

Performance poet and co-host Michael Pedersen took us to the heart of his life experience, with witty words and a compelling beat to his tongue, the short films of Ainslie Henderson and Will Anderson managed to be moving, funny and disturbing in equal measure, while the opportunity to see The Ridge, Cut Media’s stunning film about cyclist Danny MacAskill, on the big screen was a real treat.

Master of ceremonies Kevin Williamson gave an old classic a new edge, by delivering a blistering, gravel-throated version of Robert Burns’ Tam O’Shanter. But for me, the Neu:Land highlight was blues band Emelle. Craig Lithgow on guitar and vocals and brother Rhys on Cajun drum and vocal harmonies, both so in tune with each other their sound melted over the stage like warm chocolate.

Touting their own brand of “domestic blues”, Emelle write songs about life, love, the quest for liberty and more – a sound worth checking out not just on New Year’s Day, but year-round.