Edinburgh International Festival music review: En Avant, Marche!, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Sally Stott.
An older man stands, awkward, on an empty stage, cymbals in hands, trying to find the right moment to bring them crashing together. Really, he wants to play the trombone – his instrument of 30 years – but he is ill and so that’s no longer a possibility.
In their first joint production since Gardenia, directors Frank Van Laecke and Alain Platel (founder of Les Ballets C de la B) break down the familiar images, steps and sounds of a marching brass band and turn them into something far more profound: a metaphor for life itself.
The formal arrangements of composer Steven Prengels, the sense of ritual and pageantry, the progressive beats on drums: while individual participants may come and go, the band, essentially, plays on.
The tragedy of the man and his baton-wielding majorette partner, both less physically capable than they once were, is made painfully clear through their attempts to join in with the movement and music – mostly well-known classics from the 19th and 20th centuries – as it’s embraced by the next generation (or, perhaps, younger versions of themselves).
But this isn’t a piece that simply shows us a final performance; it’s one that displays the whole process, from the quiet setting up of the chairs, to the rousing build-up of the music from, as well as professional musicians, a local group (in this instance, the Dalkeith and Monktonhall Brass Band). Haunting communal singing further emphasises this is an ensemble performance.
“What is the meaning of life?” the man asks, perplexed, through a fragmented dialogue that draws on many languages, leaving us to translate them purely through their tone and emotion – a bit like the music itself.
A rousing finale denies us a final souring note: there is no meaning, nor is there an end, just a continuation of everything that has gone before.
Published in The Scotsman on 26 August 2015
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