Enclosure 44 – Humans **** Edinburgh Zoo JANIS Claxton Dance may well take the trophy for choosing this year's most eccentric Fringe venue. Claxton and fellow dancers Skye Reynolds, Libby Charlton and Vikky Stewart, have taken over – or rather been imprisoned in – enclosure 44 at Edinburgh Zoo.
The humans' pen is placed discreetly beside the big cats section, and will be home to the four dancers from 10am until 5pm every day until August 16, catching many an unwitting zoo-goer off-guard.
Dancidius tiptapicus is the name given to their sub-species, according to 'zookeeper' and fellow performer Angus Balbernie. As well as keeping the dancers fed on a balanced diet of five-a-day fruit and veg plus wholesome treats like oatcakes and lasagne (feeding time is at 1pm), he will also be giving three o'clock animal talks outside the pen, examining the rare species and their wacky behaviour.
Claxton, who is originally from Australia but who has been based in Edinburgh since 2005, is known for her free approach to movement and love of improvisation. Here the four dancers (who will at some point be joined by a fifth) are given the ultimate freedom to move as they please, sometimes lolling on top of one another, sometimes scampering to the high rocky peaks, mugs of tea in hand (well, it's human behaviour naturally).
Their casual bright everyday clothing puts them in exactly the same visual category as the passers-by staring at them through the glass front of their high-walled pen, but at times the range of movement they express is far from ordinary. From the animalistic grooming of Skye Reynolds and Vikky Stewart to their cat-like poses, crouched on rocks, it's clear that the group's extensive research watching zoo animals has found its place in practice.
At other times, they explore the unique capabilities of the human body with sweeping turns and Tai Chi style meditations. Cooperation with one another and games of follow the leader are balanced with a healthy dose of mischief and rebellion – it seems that hats and food are fair targets for thieving.
Of course, every moment is different, and depending on weather, mood and audience the improvised show can go in any number of directions. It's worth popping back at intervals as unexpected delights arise as the passers-by change. At one point 'alpha-female' Claxton plays with a fascinated child. Later Stewart copies the dance moves of a woman on the other side of the glass. Notions of who is the audience and who is the performer are playfully reversed.
Claxton and her company have put together a truly interactive show on many levels – one of the most fun parts is to stand back and watch the various crowd reactions.
Overheard comments ranged from, 'It's just like Big Brother' to 'I'm not watching that'. An American earnestly told his children it was 'performance art', while many asserted that 'humans don't move like that', without pausing to think that perhaps animals don't behave normally in cages either.
Dance Base have also pulled off a coup in sneaking their experimental art into a space where it reaches beyond their normal audience. Families, tourists, teenagers in tracksuits and toddlers all gathered to gawp at the oddly familiar sight.
More than just a gimmick, Enclosure 44 is an experimental study in who we are – what makes us both similar and different to other animals – and it can only grow in its findings as the run continues.
Until August 16 (not 11)