Taiwan Season: Varhung – Heart to Heart (****)
This is the Title (****)
It’s Not Over Yet … and How to Survive the Future (***)
Sowhereto Africa (***)
The Spinners (****)
Scotland’s National Centre for Dance is more than living up to its name this Fringe, with 24 shows delving into almost every sub-genre the artform has to offer.
Later this month they’ll welcome companies delivering tap, flamenco and physical theatre, while the current crop of shows – remarkably for the Edinburgh Fringe – even includes classical ballet.
I say remarkably because full-length, narrative ballet by a professional company is the polar opposite to somebody handing out flyers – you just don’t see it. And, increasingly, it’s not in the Edinburgh International Festival either, so it’s no surprise that Ballet Ireland’s Giselle is already selling out.
Choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela has reworked the narrative to include a police investigation in the first half (Giselle is now the victim of murder, rather than a weak heart), which gives the piece a modern, accessible edge.
At times the staging feels a little clunky, and there are no stand-out, grab-the-heart moments, but seeing classical dancers of this high quality at such close quarters is a Fringe treat.
But for me, the biggest treat of all at Dance Base currently is Varhung – Heart to Heart. Part of the Taiwan Season, it has a mesmerising quality that borders on hypnotic. Tjimur Dance Theatre uses contemporary choreography to focus on the traditions and cultures of Taiwan’s indigenous people, the Paiwan – but there’s nothing backward-looking about this piece. Starting with a gentle sway that’s like a lullaby in motion, they build into a frenzy of movement (and at times, beautiful song) that takes them to the point of exhaustion. Joy, anger, sadness, it’s all in there, wrapped in sweat-inducing, synchronised dancing.
Equally compelling is Ima Iduozee, whose solo This is The Title has been wowing audiences the world over since 2012. Iduozee is one of that rare crop of dancers who needs nothing but his fluid physicality and speed to dominate a space (like Akram Khan and Emio Greco before him). Forging his own hybrid form of movement, that fuses contemporary dance with breakdance, he glides across the floor with minimal lighting and sound, yet owns the stage – and us – throughout.
There’s something deeply personal about double-bill It’s Not Over Yet … and How to Survive the Future – two solos that speak to us in a very different way to Iduozee. In the first piece, we’re privileged to be allowed inside the private world of Emma Jayne Park, whose recent recovery from cancer has left her battle-scarred but bold. Sitting on a chair, draped in an oversized hospital gown, she plucks long strands of hair from her head, loosened by the impact of chemotherapy.
• READ MORE: Dance review: 8 Songs, Assembly Roxy
Pills of every colour pile up, but with each harsh reality presented, she turns to the audience with a dead-eyed grin and claims, “I’m fine!”. It would be great to see more of Park’s experience reflected here, but even as it stands, the closing moment hits hard.
Tess Letham also shares aspects of her life with us in her guide to surviving relationship break-ups, bereavement and other nettles that sting us along the way. There’s still work to be done on the humour, but the choreography is strong and, again, a touching ending leaves us carrying hope.
Liz Roche’s WRoNGHEADED goes beyond the individual into the collective experience of women in the Republic of Ireland. Created before the vote to repeal the 8th amendment, but with that very much in mind, the piece almost has too much to offer.
Beautiful filmed footage of a woman in a cave covers the floor, dancers Sarah Cerneaux and Justine Cooper fill the space with moves conveying urgency, pain, exhaustion, tenderness, while Elaine Feeney’s deeply moving poetry provides the soundtrack. All three – and Feeney’s words in particular – demand, and deserve, our attention, until at times you feel you’re neglecting one of them.
I’ll also need to go back and see Sowhereto Africa, because on the day I attended technical difficulties meant there were no promised projections of life on the streets of Soweto, and a 30-minute delay led to me having to miss the ending. Regardless of this, I saw enough to know this show is a slice of unmitigated joy.
Back at Dance Base after their equally joyful 2016 show, I Am Rhythm, Njobo Productions creates works with a homespun, laidback feel that belies the hard graft that goes into them. Whether they’re slamming the floor with their feet, or slapping the side of their gumboots with their hands, the speed and precision creates an energy that floods the room.
• READ MORE: Dance review: My Land, Assembly Roxy
Speed is also a factor in The Spinners, a new production from Scotland’s physical theatre king Al Seed and Australian choreographer Lina Limosani – although you almost wish it wasn’t. With knitting needles and scissors involved, you can imagine the risk assessment meeting. Of course it all adds to the sense of danger which, along with the body slamming and dexterous placing of wool around hands, necks and bodies, is thrilling to watch.
Limosani and fellow dancers Tara Jade Samaya and Kialea-Nadine Williams play the Fates of Greek mythology, deciding what happens to humanity from their base in a wool-strewn sweatshop. Peering into a large metal vessel, like Macbeth’s witches, they dictate the lives of others – but start to question, what about their own wellbeing?
There’s a richness to The Spinners which keeps on unfolding, much like the entire Dance Base programme, with many more delights to be discovered ahead.
• Giselle until 19 August, 8:45pm; Taiwan Season: Varhung – Heart to Heart until 26 August, 6:15pm; This is the Title until 19 August, 7:30pm; It’s Not Over Yet… and How to Survive the Future until 12 August, 3:20pm; WRoNGHEADED until 19 August, 1:30pm. Sowhereto Africa until 26 August, 2:30pm. The Spinners until 19 August, 4:45pm.