Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Selected Reviews
August 3–27, 2007
Reviewed by Lea Marshall
Inherent in the idea of a “Fringe Festival” are performances that tread outside conventional boundaries, whether through subject matter, venue, or genre. At this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, a small sampling of the “Dance & Physical Theatre” offerings demonstrated just how broadly the idea of “dance” can be interpreted and still remain relevant to our understanding of movement as an art.
First, a completely engaging cast of Korean b-boys, in Yegam & Sevensense Company’s Break Out at Assembly Hall, plunged cheerfully through a ridiculous tale of convicts who stumble upon an ancient book of cosmic breakdancing secrets, escape, and run wild through a hospital and a convent, before the guards surround them at last. Along the way, everyone who comes into contact with the Book begins to breakdance, uncontrollably. It’s a great gag, and the dancing (when it happens, amidst all the plot) is tight enough to satisfy, with plenty of spins and inverted freezes, and a great beatboxer to boot.
Set up in great tents at the water’s edge in Leith (Edinburgh’s port) was Fuerzabruta, an experiential creation concocted by artistic director Diqui James, creator of De La Guarda. Here, as in De La Guarda, the audience stand in a large open space and are herded about by techies in headsets who make way for each new spectacular, noisy revelation. A white-suited man running on a treadmill above our heads glides through the crowd. He is shot. Some of us get splattered with blood. He is shot again. We don’t know why. He keeps running. We’re excited. Even more so when a white-bricked wall sails towards him and he bursts through it in a spectacular shower of paper. Sound, light, water, mylar, cardboard, dancers stomping and shouting, sailing through the air and flinging themselves across sheets of water 20 feet in the air—none of it makes much sense unless you chalk it up to a general evocation of the chaos of modern life, but who cares? It’s a whopping good time and gorgeous to look at.
Two shows at the Aurora Nova venue at St. Stephen’s Church, home to what has become the Fringe’s most distinguished program of Dance & Physical Theatre, enabled us to reconsider the movement of the world (and ours within it) by setting us outside looking in. In The Art of Laughter, Belgian actor/director Jos Houben offered an analytical (and hilarious) dissection of physical comedy, showing us the anatomy of a stumble, examining personality through posture and gesture, turning a magnifying glass on us even as we scrutinized him.
The Tbilisi Marionnette State Theatre performed The Battle of Stalingrad, directed by Rezo Gabriadze. Can you call a puppet show a dance performance? Puppets become compelling to us only when they “come to life” and we begin to recognize ourselves in them through their imitation of our own movement. Think Petrushka. In The Battle of Stalingrad, this recognition assumed an unbearable poignancy. Suffering, on the terrible stage of that battle, left behind no creature great or small. In the basement of St. Stephen’s Church that suffering cried out through the slow arc of an old horse’s head raised in hope, in the upturned chin of a young man being dragged, wounded, from the field of battle behind a ragged cart pulled by a tottering sheep. It crept, too, through the wild shuddering of a young gunman who lost his love to another; through the graceful hands of a very old man trapped in a bombardment; and through the wavering antennae of a small ant mourning her lost child.
Just as we laughed at ourselves with Houben, so we wept with Gabriadze, and when we combine it all with the silliness of Break Out or the excitement of Fuerzabruta, we find the Fringe has delivered yet again: serving up life itself on the stage, tragic, absurd, gorgeous ,and fleeting.