Guest Blog from Edinburgh Festival Fringe

August 11, 2008

The mix of good and bad shows I’ve seen her simply means that the Fringe is doing what it does best: serving up a feast of such variety that the most delicate, heavenly pastry rests alongside a Hostess cupcake and both can be enjoyed, depending on your mood and expectations.

We ventured into the pouring rain the other night, crossed town to the Greenside venue (a tiny stage rigged up in a church parish hall) for Sushi Tap: Tokyo Tap Do! We were treated to a trio of Japanese tappers staging a vaudeville-inspired series of goofy and frankly adorable dance and comedy routines. Near the top of my list was a solo baton-twirling sequence by Naoji in a white dress, accompanied by Elvis Costello’s “She.” Her skilled twirling and fearlessly absurd pantomime of the song lyrics had me in stitches. It’s the simple things, sometimes.

Turning to more serious dance offerings, I visited Dance Base [] (Scotland’s “National Centre for Dance”) on the Grassmarket, for three mixed-bill shows of contemporary work. Of the eight works I saw in total, three caught at the heart, or mind, or eye, and one just cracked me up.

Icelandic choreographer Steinunn Ketilsdóttir created and performed Crazy in Love with MR. PERFECT with American dancer Brian Gerke. Both powerful dancers, Ketilsdóttir and Gerke explored phrases apart from each other. Ketilsdóttir skittered across the floor, seemingly searching for something, and suddenly Gerke began speaking, coaching her, and I realized that she was perhaps searching for a man, as was he. Off and on Gerke kept up a patter of light talk, of funny commentary on Ketilsdóttir’s dancing. But the mood shifted abruptly when Ketilsdóttir came down front, stood in harsh light, sweating, and stuttered out, painfully, “I am afraid of men.” And then the dance became truly engaging, as the performers revealed more and more vulnerability, and my own heart peeled itself open in response.

Following “Mr. Perfect,” X Factor Dance Company’s [] Unspoken, choreographed and performed by Alan Grieg and Peter Kyle, referenced death and spirits and a world beyond our own, but offered predictable movement—reaching, arcing turns, partnering perhaps combative/perhaps tender—not particularly reflective of such a theme.

Another open-hearted work closed this show. In In time and it will snow, from the Norwegian company winter guests [], a man and a woman danced in big scooping, sweeping gestures with effortlessly curvelinear arms while speaking in turn poignant monologues from the perspective of two terminally ill people waiting for the end to come. The piece was short—well composed and perfectly edited, which seems to me such a rare accomplishment—and thus completely engrossing.

In a triple bill titled “Irish Cream”, Dance Base offered the work of three contemporary Irish companies. In Match, choreographed by Fearghus O’Conchuir, two men in football (that’s European football, not American) outfits danced a springy, athletic duet that blended toughness and tenderness and created a mysteriously ambiguous relationship between them—combative, sexy, secret.

And I cannot close without mentioning Legitimate Bodies Dance Company, Nick Bryson and Damian Punch, who created Hanging In There as a brilliant commentary on the language used in the Northern Ireland peace accord. They used a similarly diplomatic, vague, and hopeful language to describe their own duet moment by moment, “finding ways to move forward.” If only politicians and diplomats everywhere had to practice weight-sharing as part of their negotiation process!