August 4, 2006

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2006

Aurora Nova at St. Stephen’s Church, Edinburgh, Scotland

August 4-28, 2006

Reviewed by Lea Marshall

Russian dance-theater troupe Derevo in Ketzal

Photo by Elena Iarovaia, courtesy Derevo


Watching Derevo’s Ketzal means being buffeted by sound, light, writhing limbs, rolling eyes, flickering fingers, until you no longer try to understand what you are seeing but simply watch. And watching in that receptive state invites a flood of feelings—powerful and elusive of definition—that you could not otherwise experience. The Russian dance-theater group’s work can bring about true catharsis, and as I sat unexpectedly weeping, I understood for the first time what that means.

It means at first the thinking, judging mind roused to confusion and then beaten back to quiet observation by a series of visions, initially via a jagged hole cut in a hanging plastic tarp, through which faces, bodies, hands appeared and disappeared, moving as if through a weightless space, lit brightly against the blackness. Later, with the plastic torn down and the space opened, images and fragments of narrative began to emerge. Nearly naked bodies or those adorned with beaks and feathers struggled with shrieks and silence, hunched backs, sudden leaps or wild scampering.

The chaos onstage seems overwhelming until you realize that chaos is inherent in the sequences of birth, growth, death, and rebirth that Derevo, through some primeval channeling process, evokes with such visceral intensity. A mother figure gave birth to a wild bird-man, beaked and fierce, who wriggled his way to standing and became a central figure in the swirling maelstrom of the stage. Scurrying hooded figures suddenly opened out to a circle and let go their drapery, revealing long skirts and bare chests. They whirled around, slow and luminous like Sufis in colored light. Toward the end a fabric sun rose red over a water-strewn stage; a lone figure stood black against its light.

Derevo taps into a wellspring of the collective human soul and rends you with images of enduring pain and struggle. But it also leaves you flooded with compassion in the face of a dark and gorgeous world. See or