Festival review: Pomegranates Festival, various venues, Edinburgh

A festival which feels like it’s tapping into unexplored areas, Pomegranates has found a perfect home in Edinburgh, writes David Pollock

Pomegranates Festival: Elegies, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh ****

In the austere current climate for the arts in Scotland, with what feel like weekly reports of yet another organisation descending into financial crisis, it’s heart-warming to see a new festival not just surviving but flourishing.

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Founded as a two-day event within the wider Tradfest in 2022, Pomegranates has expanded into a five-day celebration of traditional dance from Scotland and around the world in 2024. Produced by the Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland, with multiple local partner organisations, its series of workshops, interactive dance sessions, exhibitions and performances encourage participation as much as observation.


The centrepiece of the festival so far has been the series of events with one of those production partners, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, throughout Saturday, especially the second-ever performance of a new and developing adaptation for dance, music and spoken word of the late Hamish Henderson’s great anti-war poetry sequence from 1948, Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica, which was based upon Henderson’s own experiences serving in North Africa during the Second World War.

In its current state of development, Elegies felt perfectly in command of its tone and message. Spread over ten elegies, a prologue, an interlude and an epilogue, spoken word artists Morag Anderson and Stephen Watt read Henderson’s dazzlingly evocative poetry cycle, telling of his experiences in a world of conflict where there were “no gods and precious few heroes.”

Alongside and in between their words, choreographer-dancer George Adams and four other performers (Helen Gould, Nicola Thomson, Edwin Wen and Aimee Williamson) staged evocative movement cycles.

Alongside them, singer and multi-instrumentalist Cera Impala moved between scene-setting musical accompaniment and centre-stage songs from her own repertoire, the power in her low-key, husky vocal lending a musical sparseness which matched the mournful tone of the piece. For the elegy titled "Seven Good Germans” the performers were joined by co-producer Jim Mackintosh, whose German-language introduction of these enemy soldiers’ voices lent emphasis to Henderson’s blurring of the boundaries between “our own” and “the others”.

It was a powerful, universal extrapolation of Henderson’s own anti-war sentiments, made even more profound by his personal experience of war. With some presentational changes – a starker lighting design, the removal of the clumsy tables for script-in-hand reading – it would be an extremely powerful and relevant work for festival performance and touring.

Elegies followed on in the evening from two separate daytime walking tours – one, with storyteller Donald Smith which illuminated the Old Town’s dance history, the other with dance historian Alena Shmakova, offering a female perspective on dance in Georgian Edinburgh’s New Town – and it preceded a Lindy Hop social dance event at the Storytelling Centre courtyard which carried on later into the evening.

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Against the backdrop of Vengefully Changed Allegiance – an exhibition of samples and photography of sustainable fashion created by Alison Harm of Stockbridge’s Psychomoda boutique, which punkishly fuses Jacobite revivalism and an echo of Vivienne Westwood – the Castle Rock Jazz Band led experienced and beginner dancers in a taster session of the old-time swing jazz craze.

It all felt laid-back and accessible, but eye-opening too; and there’s more to come, with hip-hop choreographer Jonzi D creating an adaptation of Jim Mackintosh’s poetry entitled We Are Migrant and hosting events around the theme “Decolonising the Curriculum”. Pomegranates is a festival which feels like it’s tapping into unexplored areas, and Edinburgh is its perfect home.

Pomegranates Festival runs until 30 April, see www.tdfs.org/pomegranatesfest2024

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