Edinburgh Fringe dance reviews: Spirit of Ireland | Angel Monster | Släpstick: Schërzo | Kyiv City Ballet | What Does Stuff Do?

From Irish dancing to Russian ballet, travel the world alongside Kelly Apter in our latest round-up of her Edinburgh Fringe dance reviews.

Spirit of Ireland *****

Pleasance at EICC (Venue 150), until 27 August

It may have become a worldwide phenomenon in 1994, when Michael Flatley burst into the public eye, but Irish dancing has been keeping people entertained for centuries. Long before it was the domain of competitions and arena shows, this rhythmic style was more at home in a local pub. Which is why the location for this hugely entertaining Fringe show is so perfect – an Irish bar.

We’re welcomed to ‘Irish Celtic’, the oldest pub in Ireland, by its affable landlord, Paddy. He’s keen to retire and hand over the keys to son Dermott, but can he trust him to keep the place filled with music, song and dance, as it has been for generations? It’s a heart-warming tale, but the real story here is the quality of the footwork and musical accompaniment – both of which are top-notch.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The eleven dancers (six female, five male) all cut their teeth on big touring shows like Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, so their capacity for tight precision is well-honed. Whether they’re pounding the floor with hard shoes, or delivering more delicate soft-shoe numbers, their timing and poise are superb. Meanwhile, the ‘pub band’ is whipping up a storm with a mix of original music and well-loved clap-a-longs like Whisky in the Jar and The Wild Rover. The show’s location adds to the feel that you’ve lucked out and happened upon a stellar session band during a road trip through Ireland.

In fact, what really sets Spirit of Ireland apart is the fact the amazing footwork, first-class musicianship, set and costuming are all there – but with a warmth, friendliness and sense of fun rarely seen in other Irish dance shows. Even the dynamic ‘dance off’ battle, between four Flatley-esque dancers and one traditional Sean nós’ dancer is played out with affection. Kelly Apter

Angel Monster ***

Spirit of Ireland at the Edinburgh Fringe 2023Spirit of Ireland at the Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Spirit of Ireland at the Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Assembly Checkpoint (Venue 322), until 27 August

It’s hard to quantify, or even explain, but there is a force to Angel Monster that goes straight to the heart of the female experience. It’s not unusual to see five women dancers on stage, in fact it’s the norm, but it doesn’t usually feel like this. What the men in the audience felt I can’t say but as a woman, the power of feminine energy emanating from the stage wraps you in a sisterhood without saying a single word.

There’s an element of storytelling here, relayed via voiceovers, touching on consent, violence and how women respond to male entitlement. But it lacks clarity and as a consequence, diminishes the show’s punch. There’s also an over-reliance on clothing – item upon item litters the stage – to depict the collective experience, and if ten minutes was shaved off Angel Monster, it would be all the tighter for it.

But the performers of Brisbane-based Phluxus2 Dance Collective give their absolute all throughout, and where some shows struggle they succeed in forging a genuine connection with their audience. Physically exhausting (for them) and passionate in its intensity, this is high-octane dance with a strong beating heart. Kelly Apter

Släpstick: Schërzo ***

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33), until 28 August

If there’s a musical instrument these five men can’t play, good luck finding it. And not just play but master, for the technical ability on display here is first-class. The stage teems with all manner of violins, clarinets, trumpets and percussion, plus a number of larger items the average punter would struggle to name. The players themselves look as lively as the music they create, sporting an assortment of colourful garments and hairdos that would make them stand out on the street, even at the Fringe.

An opening routine, in which they attempt (and succeed) in playing music from 21 different well-known compositions in 60 seconds is impressive and engaging. As is a section when a violinist, stripped of his bow, finds a myriad of increasingly silly replacements to play his instrument with. Each scene sees the men employ either a new instrument or a new way of using it, packing as much into this hour-long show as humanly possible. Whether all their gags land will depend on your sense of humour, and we never quite return to the sophistication of that opening scene, but there’s fun to be had here and musical talent to enjoy. Kelly Apter

Kyiv City Ballet ***

Assembly Hall (Venue 35), until 28 August

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Performing in France the day their country was invaded, Kyiv City Ballet was unable to return to Ukraine and forced to seek refuge elsewhere. So now, we’re told by company director Ivan Kozlov, Croatia has become their ‘second home’. Despite the obvious challenges this brings, the dancers have still managed to stay at the top of their game physically. Opening with a short demonstration of how they warm up before a show, Kozlov introduces the audience to various balletic moves and encourages us to enjoy the ‘light’ performance.

He’s not joking. What follows is 40 minutes of character-based dance with no discernible narrative, aside from couples finding a love interest in double-quick time. The countless entrances and exits make it impossible for the 14 dancers to build up to anything substantial or for us to invest in their characters. It’s all beautifully costumed, so will hit the spot for those looking for technical acumen tied up in a pretty bow. But a show entitled ‘A Tribute to Peace’ could have been so much more powerful and put these talented dancers to better use. The closing routine – ‘The Men of Kyiv’ – at least pays homage to their dance traditions, gifting us some muscular, crowd-pleasing Cossack dancing. Kelly Apter

What Does Stuff Do? ***

Zoo Playground (Venue 186), until 27 August

Most jugglers arrive at the Fringe with a trunk-full of balls, clubs and rings, not a flipchart. But then Robin Dale is not most jugglers, and technical brilliance aside this show is a world away from the flashy showmanship taking place in your average big top. Aside from the flipchart, Dale’s objects of choice are two jugs of water, a paddling pool (to avoid mess), a table tennis bat and ball, and a single ring. Later, with help from a fellow juggler, a bag of balls is also put to good use.

All of this aids Dale in his quest to explain what ‘stuff’ does. How the art of juggling comes together, how we move as humans through space, and how the absence of stuff is just as important as its presence. Only he explains it in more eloquent terms, backed by scientific knowledge and delivered with a smile. Those of a mathematical nature will find his explanations less complicated than others. But even if he’s bamboozling you, Dale is a charming, highly-skilled performer, so let the equations wash over you and just enjoy the speed and originality of his tricks. Kelly Apter

Related topics: