Standing in the crowd, you could feel the desire start to grow. First it was a gentle pulse of knees, then the odd shoulder twitch or body sway – David Bowie’s Let’s Dance was playing at high volume and standing still was tantamount to torture. Up on stage, hip hop dancer Ashley Jack was poppin’ and lockin’ with vigour, her smile clearly visible behind the Aladdin Sane-style make-up. But she, and the organisers of Let’s Dance: Land, knew that we wanted a piece of the action – and we soon got it.
Let’s Dance: Land ****
Edinburgh Festival Theatre
New Scots: Land ****
Dance Base, Edinburgh
Orcadia: Land ****
St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
Performance over, Jack grasped the energy in the room with both hands and before we knew it, every one of us was dancing. Dozens of post-Hogmanay revellers, hangovers forgotten, were sliding, gliding, clapping and twirling to Bowie. If you could have bottled the feeling and atmosphere, and taken it with you into 2017, all would be well.
Curated by Dance Base, and taking place on the Festival Theatre stage, Let’s Dance:Land was about the joy of movement for all. Glasgow hip hop crew The Flying Jalapeños got the pulse racing, followed by older dance troupe Prime, who delivered a classy, funny and sassy piece by choreographer Steinvor Pálsson, dressed up in 1930s glamour.
Scotland’s amateur ballroom and Latin champions Tibor Poc and Hilary Mouet gave a first class display of graceful elegance and sultry magnetism, and by the time we left via stage door, signing up for a dance class felt like the only option.
Joy was also in abundance at Dance Base itself, where international artists who have made Scotland their home took up residence. Whether you were clapping along to the intoxicating music and dance of Spain’s Flamenko Power, joining in the Ghanaian chants of the exuberant Sankofa Beats, basking in the guitar playing/songwriting genius of Chile’s Carlos Arredondo, or any of the other wonderful and diverse acts at New Scots:Land, you were guaranteed a good time. Introducing the public to perhaps hitherto unknown acts, curators Scary Biscuits are to be applauded for opening up a box of global cultural delights for us all to enjoy.
A much calmer vibe permeated St Giles’ Cathedral, where Alasdair Nicolson, artistic director of the St Magnus International Festival, had programmed a day of beautiful, uplifting and moving music, dance and song from Orkney. The superb Assembly Project, playing works by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Nicolson himself amongst others, felt very much at home in such a breathtaking space. So too the haunting harmonies of the Mayfield Singers, a chamber choir that has encouraged Orcadians to find their voice for almost 30 years.
Representing the future of Orkney’s musical output, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students, Graham Rorie and Aidan Moodie, on fiddle and guitar respectively, displayed technique and emotional intensity beyond their years. Especially when accompanying fellow Conservatoire students Ewan Hambleton and Hannah Eden, two ballet dancers with bright futures. Perfectly pitched for this stunning venue, Orcadia: Land should send more than a few people northwards for this year’s St Magnus Festival in June.