Edinburgh Festival Fringe dance review: Pole, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Sally Stott
“Pole dancing; it’s like fitness,” says a woman in the audience at the start of the show – and it’s true, or at least it is for the growing numbers of people taking classes in gyms or dance schools. In a thought-provoking piece of verbatim theatre that combines “pole”, as it’s known, with five real-life women’s accounts of the very different things it means to them, the three performers carry out routines – sometimes sexy, sometimes silly, sometimes poignant.
Yes, pole dancing is something strippers do, but also men in India, we learn, who have their own “sporty” version. Sometimes dancing with a pole is sexual, but then so is a lot of popular, contemporary dance. Why shouldn’t women express their sexuality, one woman compellingly argues: Why is doing what is essentially a series of acrobatics on a pole any less valid than doing them on a rope or with ribbons, as circus performers do?
The women – who include an Aussie sports fanatic perfecting her “machine gun” move, an investment banker winding down after work and a stripper who admits she doesn’t actually know how to dance – represent the way pole dancing has, for some, been reclaimed. But a disturbing insight from an undercover investigator, who pretends to be a pole dancer in order to help sex-trafficked women escape, vividly describes a darker side – one where women are raped, shoved on stage and told to perform.
A single pole clearly means vastly different things to different people in different situations – and it can still be a means by which men exploit vulnerable women. But as the performer’s powerful physiques, acrobatic moves and final, elegant pole-ballet fusion number proves, it can also be a form of expression as varied as any other – one currently morphing into different sub-genres in the way all dance does over time.
Underbelly (Venue 61) until 30 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 17 August 2015
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