Kelly Apter discovers that unpredictability is the name of the game at Dance Base
Green Tea and Zen Baka ★★★
Kurakuraw Dance Glass Bead ★★★★
Eggs of Blessings ★★★
Taki Maori Haka Experience ★★★
iWitness & Special Edition ★★★★
Salon Mika ★★★★
All at Dance Base (Venue 22)
After ten years at the Fringe, Dance Base is still as unpredictable as ever. Those walking through the door expecting this venue to do exactly what it says on the tin (dance) will soon discover that artistic director Morag Deyes has a very egalitarian approach to movement – pretty much anything goes.
The Dance Base day starts in the “secret garden” upstairs, where free show Green Tea and Zen Baka gives you 30 minutes of contemplative space with a nicely brewed cup of green tea in your hand. Performance artist David WW Johnstone sits on a chair and pulls a variety of faces – until finally, he stares into yours. The human connection is surprisingly touching, and the entire experience blissfully calm.
Inside the building, Dance Base is celebrating a decade of Fringe programming with its biggest line-up yet – 18 shows (they had five in their first year) from eight different nations.
For me, the jewel in their crown isn’t even in the dance section of the Fringe programme. Created by Dublin-based Fishamble, Swing is a play about dancing – with dancing in it – which more than qualifies it for a Dance Base slot. Steve Blount and Janet Moran (aka Joe and May, a couple who meet at their local swing dance class) have the audience in the palm of their hands throughout this funny, inspirational and heart-warming tale.
Playing all the other class participants and teachers themselves, the duo have a real talent for characterisation, and Swing is destined to be the venue’s big Fringe hit.
Fellow Dubliners, CoisCéim have brought a very different slice of Irish theatre to Edinburgh. Disturbed and moved by the large number of people who go missing in Ireland each year, director David Bolger has created a poignant duet that is part movement, part text.
Rather then focus on one individual’s story, Missing lists many of the names and scenarios of adults and children whose disappearance remains unsolved. A Max Richter score helps drive up the emotional intent, as does the atmospheric candlelight, but it’s Tom Pritchard and Emma O’Kane that do the real work with dynamic yet heartfelt performances.
There is also something deeply touching about Tjimur Dance Theatre’s Kurakuraw Dance Glass Bead. A re-working of a traditional Taiwanese love story, the show brings together two contemporary dancers, a folk singer/narrator, cellist and operatic vocalist. The passion between the two main characters (one bird, one human) is palpable – but so too is the sadness of a mother and daughter destined to be separated forever, when the young woman joins her avian lover in the sky.
Atmospheric lighting picks out the detail in the gorgeous costumes and a shimmering red silk sheet which is pulled slowly across the stage. And although programme notes fill us in on the story line, so much is communicated by the performers the language barrier seems invisible.
Showing another side to Taiwanese dance, Jade and Artists’ Eggs of Blessings is a show of two halves. A homage to a more simple way of life in the 1940s, the piece opens with a childlike playfulness. Which, although pleasing, feels a little empty. But hang in there, because the choreography takes a dynamic turn part-way through, becoming much darker and more engaging, before a joyful ending takes us home.
One of a number of New Zealand groups in Edinburgh this Fringe, Taki Mãori is a family affair. Mum Kelly (I’m aspiring to be like her in more than name only) and dad Damon are joined by two of their sons, two nieces and a nephew for the Taki Mãori Haka Experience – and what an experience it is.
In full costume and tribal face paint they hurtle onto the stage, feet pounding the floor, mouths hollering and eyes giving the kind of menacing look that suggests we’d better do as we’re told. Having introduced us to her loved ones, Kelly puts us through our paces, and before we know it, we’re all dancing a haka and speaking (well, shouting) Mãori from our seats.
At the other end of the spectrum, Athletes is an exercise in stillness. Created by Italian choreographer Riccardo Buscarini, and performed by three female dancers, this is not a piece for those in need of constant stimulation.
Dressed in a tight, white catsuit (complete with hard plastic vertebrae stuck on their back like a vulnerable spine) they stand and stare at each other as the minutes tick by.
When movement finally comes, it’s sharp, defined and fiendishly tricky (for them) to execute. But, once they’ve traversed the floor, we’re back to stillness and long looks. It’s a stretched-out 30 minutes, but Athletes is a masterclass in body control.
For those who like their dance to be, well, danced, then iWitness and Special Edition ticks that particular box. A double bill featuring US-based dancer/choreographer Vincent Thomas in the first half and artists from Scottish Ballet in the second, it’s a chance to see some beautiful movement up close.
Thomas cuts a real dash with his powerful physique, and equally powerful desire to say something meaningful in iWitness. He wants us in on it, too – encouraging the audience to question what we pledge to do or be. Surrounded by a sea of scrunched-up newspaper, he covers the space with an intensity that’s impossible to ignore.
Special Edition gives four members of Scottish Ballet (three dancers and the company’s rehearsal director) a chance to flex their creative muscles and choreograph a short work.
The line-up will change mid-run, but when I saw it, Hope Muir’s Broken Ice and Sophie Laplane’s Sink In made interesting bedfellows. Contemporary in style, but balletic in delivery, both works had a strong grasp of partnering.
Inspired by Tennessee Williams’s play, Talk to Me Like the Rain … And Let Me Listen, Muir’s piece had a real sense of characterisation, with a young couple fluctuating between passion and torment. To see such promising choreographic talent emerge from Scottish Ballet is an exciting development, and one which will hopefully lead to further opportunities for those usually on stage to entertain audiences in a different way.
I must have been living under a Fringe rock for the past seven years, because Salon Mika was my first encounter with the Mãori singing sensation. Dressed in killer heels and an array of dazzling consumes (worth the ticket price on their own), he belts out an eclectic range of songs, interspersed by truly hilarious banter, tender love stories and the occasional splits.
Joined onstage at one point by the aforementioned Taki Mãori family (now in full-on terror mode) Mika takes us into a wild theatrical nightmare with his powerhouse vocals. But by the closing song, the infectiously upbeat What kind of happy would you like? it’s clear what the answer is – your kind, Mika, your kind.
Green Tea and Zen Baka until 24 August; today 10:15am, more info
Swing until 24 August; today 7:30pm
Missing until 24 August; today 6pm, more info
Kurakuraw Dance Glass Bead until 24 August; today 6:30pm, more info
Eggs of Blessings until 24 August; today 8pm, more info
Taki Maori Haka Experience until 24 August; today noon, more info
Athletes until 17 August; today 1pm, more info
iWitness & Special Edition until 17 August; today 3pm, more info
Salon Mika until 24 August; today 9pm, more info
Originally published in The Scotsman