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Flash Review 2, 8-23:
Fire and Dry Ice
Dance is a Circus at the Ed Fringe Festival
By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2000 Rosa Mei
EDINBURGH, Scotland --
I love dense, convoluted Russian symbolist prose. I'm also a huge
fan of loud, action-packed adventure flicks -- "Terminator," "Magnificent
Butcher," et al. Not that I mix the pate with the Pringles, but
sometimes it's just inevitable. Let's take, for example, this year's
Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Now over 50 years old, it's the world's
largest and most-established cultural grab bag, featuring more than
1,400 shows ranging from bad basement acts to world-class touring
companies. And production values ranging from $500 to $500,000.
Bigger's not always better, but there does seem to be a rather disturbing
trend here that favors style over substance, all the bells and whistles
the mind could conjure, and all the dry ice you could possibly pump
on stage without choking the audience.
The peculiar thing here
is that this obsessive/compulsive tendency towards more is more,
this love affair with eye candy, seems to be much more prevalent
in the field of dance and physical theater than other disciplines.
(The festival divides the shows into art form categories such as
comedy, theatre, visual art, music, opera and dance and physical
theater.) Common traits among theater pieces -- notably two Fringe
First winners for innovative theater, "Achilles" by the Royal Shakespeare
Company and Steven Berkoff's "Messiah" -- include intelligent writing,
well-honed verse and clever plot twists. Visually sparse but intellectually
riveting performances. In fact, "Achilles" featured no players per
se, but only an actor reading a script for 90 minutes, "a narrative
for performance." No gesticulation, no exaggerated facial expressions,
just a vibrant display of vocal range and delivery. Fine/refined
Now let's look at the
dance & physical theater category. Over the past two weeks (the
Edinburgh Fringe Festival runs from 6-28 August) I've seen nine
or so performances in this arena, street acts and buskers not included.
Almost all the acts contained one or more of the following traits:
-- dry ice
-- aerial work or bungee jumping
-- shiny, happy people
-- rhythmic tap or percussion
-- juggling and tumbling
Let's back up here. I'm
not describing side show acts from Carowinds. I'm talking about
"art," dance art, physical theater art, art-for-arts-sake art. If
all the world's a stage, is all the dance world becoming a circus?
I mean, even here in NY, circuses have become the centerpiece of
Lincoln Center's summer festivals. It ain't the circus, fool. It's
Don't get me wrong. I'm
not a curmudgeonly art snob, but if there's a time for Sammo (yay
for Magnificent Butcher!), isn't there also a time for Goethe and
Fellini? Is dance -- what many people seem to perceive as a more
abstract art form than others -- so intangible that people need
visual guideposts to interpret it or happy distractions (fireworks,
dry ice, etc.) to maintain interest in it? On the other end of the
dance spectrum, there seems to be a new choreographic trend towards
creating obtuse, incomprehensible gibberish dance (see Glen Eddy's
article in the August issue of Dance Europe on the Eurotrash fad
in dance, "Brilliance or Baloney?"). Where, indeed, is middle ground?
That said, let's move
on to some Edinburgh Fringe Festival reviews.
This piece wins the highest
rating for bells and whistles. 10+. Turbozone founders Seth Fellner
and Mojo Fell have created a high-octane spectacle extraordinaire
to rival any MTV b-boy slam-a-thon. An electrifying outdoor show
geared towards the clubbing generation, it's a cross between Mad
Max and S&M goth fetish night in the Village. Two cranes hoist performers,
post apocalyptic wrought iron vehicles, spaceships and six-meter
puppets above the audience. Cinderella works in a genetic engineering
lab that goes amuck and produces mutants, and Prince Charming is
a fey, punk dapper clown complete with white face and red-dot cheeks.
The love and dream sequences take place on suspended ropes as the
lovers preen and cuddle one another. Add fireworks galore, a DJ
blasting the house mix at full throttle, six motorcycles, Mad Max
road vehicles and two concert-sized video projection screens to
the mix and you have sensory overload. Turbozone is truly a triumph
of style over substance to the nth degree. What's exhilarating is
that this show is so glitzy and over the top, it's the next best
thing to bungee jumping. Head-popping entertainment for the masses
where every seat's a nosebleeder.
Camut Band: "Life is
The rather small platform
stage at Dynamic Earth could barely contain the sheer verve and
energy of this touring Spanish dance troupe made up of five brilliant
male performers (three dancers and two percussionists). Move over
"Stomp" and make way for the Camut Band. These sexy, urban tappers
know how to use every limb and facial expression to articulate a
seductive pause or convey red-hot passion. The charismatic, sweaty
men-in-black ooze sex from their pores and combine phenomenal technical
skill with impeccable comic timing. The brainchild of Rafael and
Luis Mendez and Toni Expanol, it's tap by way of Buster Keaton,
and it works.
Bratslava Dance Theatre:
Billed as Slovakia's
top modern dance company, Bratslava Dance Theatre works as a artistic
collective and repertory touring troupe. The resident choreographers,
Jan Kodet, Peter Mika and Olga Cobos all have strong ties with western
European dance companies, most notably the now defunct S.O.A.P.
Dance Theatre Frankfurt. Robert Mesko, the high-minded American
producer of BDT, underwrites the company's expenses by forming a
tight partnership with the commercial businesses in Slovakia. In
fact, the back of the BDT brochure reads, "Associating your company
with the BDT name also provides access to an audience in Slovakia
which includes many prominent citizens, business leaders and policy
makers." So, given that one of the prime goals of the BDT is to
please its patrons and entertain clients, how's the art?
The festival show featured
two works, Mika's heavy, angst-ridden "One Hit Wonder" and American
choreographer Bill Young's playful, yet facile "To a T." "One Hit
Wonder" (sounds like a Tharp piece from the '70s, but it is anything
but light and whimsical) pits four dancers against each other. Conflict,
resolution, dead man lying on the floor, taffy-like contact improv
duets. The human struggle theme of the piece was represented by
two small signs arrayed on either side of the stage, one reading
"pull" and the other "push." Mika writes of his dance, "The home
which I had in my memory has disappeared. There is only a wall,
with those same doors. Something is always pushing us somewhere.
But there is always a way out.... Pull." Fortunately, the piece
itself seems less overwrought than the concept behind it. The dancers'
committed performances and steely expressions turned a rather hackneyed
theme into an intriguing dialogue The real standout, Radovan Vagac,
a small human juggernaut, skimmed across the stage with mercurial
grace and catlike aplomb. Young's "To a T," a trite duet about a
couple in formal evening attire unwinding after a night on the town,
uses every cliche in the book. Gooey and cloying, but the crowd
still ate it up. I just kept thinking: bad freshman touring company
material. Accessible, yes. Profound, no.
Skaksfin & Company: "BREAK!"
This particular show
brought the Scottish folk out in droves to get a taste of New York
grit. Featuring a cast of New York b-boys and b-girls, it was less
Beastie Boys and more Disneyworld, complete with bad '80s glitter
outfits that looked like they'd been salvaged from the basement
of Domsey's warehouse. "BREAK!" is that "New York" show that's too
fake and cheesy to ever make it in the real New York. Think of those
gong acts on Showtime at the Apollo. To boot, the emcee orders the
audience to applaud as loud as possible (before we ever see one
breaker) to give the dancers more energy. "If you like something
you see, clap loud!" Then, "If you don't like something you see,
clap loud anyway!" Yeah, right. In the midst of all this cheese,
however, were a few wildly talented performers, notably Ivan "Flipz"
Velez, whose head spins have won mention in the Guiness Book of
World Records, and DJ Slynke. Both off the hook. Both belong in
a better show.
This underground Moscow
theatre company "danse-macabre" conjured up images of Hoffman by
way of Nietzche, Freud and Jung. The first 10 minutes of this piece
were actually so visually stunning, I had to force myself to close
my mouth. The mime performers, Andrej Ivashnev and Marcella Soltan,
first appear as a stuffy bureaucrat (the Russian apparatchik)and
a puppet doll hanging from the ceiling with nooses around their
necks. As the puppet ragdoll, Soltan is able to isolate ever part
of her body, every micro-muscle creating the illusion that she's
being controlled by an outside force. The two performers mutate
into clowns, dolls and jack-in-the-boxes, all with perfect precision
and finely etched detail. They wade through dry ice and stare blankly
at a porthole in the back that seems to be a possible escape route
from their subterranean hell, but they remain trapped and keep rewinding
their movements. After the sumptuous beginning, I kept waiting for
the main course, which never seemed to emerge. "Bertrand's Toys,"
which seemed so politically charged at the onset and fraught with
psychoanalytical overtones, remained an intriguing sideshow act.
Neat to watch, but hollow at the core.
For more info on the
Edinburgh International Fringe Festival, visit its
Rosa Mei is a choreographer,
dancer, and director of Rosa Mei
Dance. A recipient of a Horace Rackham Fellowship, she earned
her MFA in Dance from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She
is a national competitor in Chinese martial arts (gold and silver
medalist, 1994-9 Wushu/Kungfu Nationals) specializing in praying
mantis kung fu, spear, broadsword and drunken straightsword; currently
a member of the U.S. Wushu team, she is also a black belt in aikido.
She formed Rosa Mei Dance in 1994; since then, the company has performed
at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, the Cunningham Theater,
Gowanus Arts Exchange, Mulberry Street Theater, Context Theater,
the Joyce Soho, Lincoln Center and Central Park. Her dance video
and film work has been shown at Bryant Park and NY cable stations.
In the summer of 1998, Rosa Mei Dance made its first international
tour, performing at the National Theater of Guatemala as part of
the 50th Anniversary Celebration for Ballet Guatemala. Rosa is also
creative director of Cinegrafx,
a multimedia and motion graphics design firm.
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