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Flash Fringe Space Review, 8-24:
They All Scream for Scotland's New National Dance Center
By Colleen Teresa Bartley
Copyright Colleen Teresa Bartley
EDINBURGH, Scotland -- The excitement
is palpable here over Dance Base, Scotland's first national center for dance.
From August 14 to 19, a triple bill of "In Situ," "Don't Play Me Games," and "Experiments
in Unst" was presented, providing a sneak peek into the renovated warehouse at
the edge of Grassmarket.
Designed by Malcolm Fraser and funded
by The Scottish Arts Council Lottery, the 6 million lira venue is still in the
process of being completed but was opened to the public for the Edinburgh Fringe
Festival. Dance Base happily relocated from its offices in the Assembly Rooms.
Leah Stein's "In Situ" took the audience
on a journey through the building, surprising them at every turn. "Don't Play
Me Games" delighted the audience with humorous stylized antics, and "Experiments"
impressed with its raw energy. As an event, "In Situ" provided a framework for
the other works to rest in and prepared the audience to look at dance with new
In her introduction, Dance Base director
Morag Deyes described "In Situ" as "a dance inspired by the space, which in turn
was inspired by dance." She is right.
The new center is spacious and open
and just aches to be filled with movement. Light pours in everywhere. There are
windows cut into walls, windows set into walls, and windows bordering the entire
area near the ceiling in Studio 4. Studio 1 has a glass ceiling. Instead of a
fourth wall, Studio 3 has two massive sliding glass doors that open out into a
balcony. Studio 4 has a skylight at the center of the room. The landings at the
top of the stairs on both levels are made of frosted glass. Everything is wide
The materials -- polished wood, glass,
and metal and rock -- add to the atmosphere, reflecting the light and providing
smooth surfaces. The clean design is enriched by functionality and texture of
the building materials.
Hailing from Philadelphia, Stein
is know for her site-specific performances, having made work in outdoor venues
such as Wave Hill in NYC, Bartram's Gardens in Philadelphia, and Longwood Gardens.
She and musician Toshi Makihara have worked together for years on the collaborative
Her expertise lies in engaging the
performers in an exploration of the space which in turn engages the audience to
watch with great attention. The audience travels with the piece and becomes part
of the movement, with the border between audience and performers sometimes blurring.
Stein focuses and frames the space
using a guide who leads the audience to stand in specific places. She also has
one or more performers who provide a thread of movement in the piece and a cast
of others who appear and disappear in the background/foreground. This allows the
viewer freedom to follow the piece while looking at what catches the eye.
"In Situ" was indeed structured by
the space. The audience started in the foyer downstairs and was led up the stairs
to the first level, through the entrance door to the foyer, into Studio 1, down
the wheelchair accessible corridor, to the landing at the foot of the stairs leading
to the second level, up the stairs to the landing, into Studio 3, through a narrow
storage space into Studio 4 and into the outdoor courtyard. Along the way, the
spectators were treated to an exploration of sound and space. Dancers explored
all the textures and surfaces, crawling, walking, balancing, tumbling, catching
and falling. In a way, the building became another partner in the dance. The dancers
stood on furniture, crawled out of closets, jumped on the roof, wiggled into corners,
propelled themselves off of walls, slipped behind the ballet barre, rolled down
the wheelchair ramp,and perched on ledges and steps. Nothing was left unexplored.
Even the elevator was used as dancers made a surprise entrance and then exit.
The music was also inspired by exploration
of the space as Toshi played the walls, the metal sculptures, shook the tree and
at times remained unseen in another part of the building while playing a drum
or gong that echoed through the building. Joanna Nicholson's deep clarinet shook
life into the dance, its reedy strains winding through the air and punctuating
the atmosphere like the dancers. Dancers slapped the concrete walls, tapped on
the glass wall, and created squeaky accompaniment using their feet on the polished
floor in Studio four. Silence was a key player in the soundscore. A duet on the
balcony outside of Studio three was performed to the accompanying sounds of the
surrounding city and the impact of the dancers' bodies on the floor and against
each other. Even the audience's shuffling from space to space and their shifting
to get settled were part of the piece.
The movement was simple punctuated,
layered and fluid with sudden bursts of running and leaping and other moments
of slow contemplative movement. The music and dance were integrated and reflected
each other. For example, at one point during the performance a dancer reached
her arm out, pushed it forward, and retracted it.The movement reflected the resonant
sound heard when another person slapped the surface of a hollow metal sculpture.
The way in which the space and dance were framed and the choreography called attention
to detail and transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary. Sometimes dancers
would hold a still pose in a position to call attention to that space or area.
When walking up the wheelchair ramp, they were tucked into the spaces of the stone
walk, hanging from the banister like statues. It made people stop and look, if
only for a second.æ At other times, dancers were lay flat on the ground or standing
in a windowsill. They also did functional things with innovation, such as closing
the door with the top of the head or using the whole body to open a sliding glass
Leah Stein's solo in Studio 3 summarized
the energy of the piece. Set against the background of doors which opened into
the outdoor courtyard, Stein dipped and dove, weaving in and out around the other
dancers in the room. The energy was powerful and relaxed and completely fluid,
changing from continuous flow to sudden jumps. It reminded me of tigers in the
way they are relaxed but ready to pounce at any moment. Her fluidity was juxtaposed
by the linear aspects of the room -- door frames, walls, floor. She was framed
by other dancers in the foreground and background. The piece concluded with the
audience outside the building in the courtyard watching a dancer disappear around
the corner. As her fingers disappeared, she seemed to return to the magical world
"In Situ" is like moving Feng Shui.
The dancers seemed to be a natural extension of the building. They were part of
the fabric of the place and appeared and disappeared like magical fairies or elves
that come out when no one is looking. In my imagination, "In Situ" christened
the building and paid tribute to the stunning architecture and the art form of
It is hard to believe that "In Situ"
was created in only two weeks. The cast included Ruth Connell, Felicity Drever,
Tara Hodgson, Melissa Keri, Audicia Lynne Morely , Rachel Morrow, Jennifer Paterson,
Anne Reungoat, Sara Ritchie, Amy Tomson and Paul Brunton. "Don't Play Me Play
Games" by Berlin-based choreographer Rosie Kay was a playful dance about conformity
and growing up and adult games. Agnes Breitfus, Karol Cyseki, and Rosie Kay used
a lime green couch as a home base to explore the different aspects of game playing.
They stripped off their woolly dark clothes to reveal colorful funky garb.
"Experiments in Unst" closed the
program with unbridled energy. Eva Puschendorf and Johnny Schoofs from the Rotterdam
Dance Academy improvised with some of the participants who took part of the workshops
offered during the week as part of Dance Base's taster sessions. The audience
was seated around them. They began outstretched in a Yoga relaxation position,
listening to a relaxation tap,e but quickly picked up the pace. They played with
throwing their weight around, rolling and jumping. It was an infusion of a different
kind of energy compared to the other pieces and left us gasping for breath.
At the conclusion of the performance,
no one in the audience moved until the director asked, "What are you waiting for,
some to give you ice cream?" To which someone replied, "NO, WE WANT MORE."
I watched as people trickled out
of the building, walking slower and more attentive than when they arrived. I watched
people pause at points to explore or reflect ideas from "In Situ." They peeked
through windows, touched the walls, played with the sculpture, look longingly
down a passageway and even looked around corners and under surfaces.
The event seemed to have touched
people and changed their perspective on dance, space and movement. It was, I think,
the combination of stunning architecture, the inspirational "In Situ" and the
dynamic varied choreography of "Don't Play" and "Experiments." Each piece was
fun, humorous, engaging and inviting.
Funding for the In Situ project came
from a new initiative, PA/UK, organized with Dance Base, the Pennsylvania Council
on the Arts, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, Guilded Balloon, Melanie Stewart
Dance Theater and Dance Advance. The initiative also brought choreographer Paule
Turner to the festival this year.
For more info on Dance Base, please
visit its web site.
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