This strange and haunting piece of dance theatre from the National Theatre of Scotland is co-directed by the award winning duo Claire Cunningham and Gail Sneddon. It is an unusual, startling study into disability, set against a surreal landscape. In places, it is darkly comic; in others it is deeply unsettling.
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I walked out of this show with a huge smile on my face, and a sudden urge to go and do something, anything – as long as it was great, brave and slightly mad. And I think those are accurate adjectives with which to describe A Simple Space / Gravity and Other Myths: great, brave and slightly mad.
Smashed is a love letter to the late Pina Bausch, written in the paths of gravity-defying apples. As somebody who can barely catch a piece of fruit let alone juggle one, I couldn’t help but be transfixed by the dexterity of this disciplined ensemble. Over the short space of an hour, in what is an almost wordless performance, this truly astonishing piece of physical theatre draws attention to our society’s prejudices regarding gender, race and age.
Ripples of Circa's brilliance have pervaded the start of the Fringe. Described in turn as erotic, brave and super-human, it is with high expectations you enter the show, showcasing in the esteemed McEwan Hall.
José Montalvo's interpretation of Don Quixote fuses flamenco with ballet, tap and hip hop to spectacular effect
From reading with his grandmother as a young boy, to playing the Edinburgh International Festival - José Montalvo’s relationship with Don Quixote spans many years.
Born to Spanish parents but raised in France, Montalvo has an abundance of memories of Cervantes’ 17th-century novel. For him, Don Quichotte (as he is called in French) was a ubiquitous part of childhood visits to Spain.
“He was everywhere,” recalls Montalvo. “He was on ashtrays, fans, pens, napkins – it was very kitsch. And I wanted to re-live those memories.”
When we meet in Paris, where his new show Don Quichotte du Trocadéro is premiering, Montalvo’s connection to the book is palpable.
“I remember when my grandmother read it to me for the first time,” he says. “And when you’re a child, you hear stories like that and they become mixed up with reality. But my grandmother would always bring me back down to earth by saying, ‘Don’t be your Don Quichotte’ – it’s a Spanish expression which means don’t think that you can be a hero, remember it’s only a story.”
Cervantes’ original story undergoes quite a transformation in Montalvo’s new work. No longer set in Spain in the 1600s, the action now takes place on the Paris metro. A middle-aged man, played by acclaimed French comic actor Patrice Thibaud, journeys across the underground, meeting a myriad of characters along the way.
Known for his innovative use of film (as seen in 2007’s International Festival show On Danse), Montalvo once again supplements the on-stage action with clever footage shot on trains, platforms and escalators. It serves as a colourful and amusing backdrop to the diverse movement of the performers.
For, unlike most dance companies, Montalvo’s doesn’t focus on one particular style. Instead, the show features ballet, tap, contemporary, flamenco, hip hop and, at times, a dynamic hybrid of two or three put together. For Montalvo, it’s the most natural thing in the world.
“Maybe because of my history, mixture is completely normal for me – it’s the only way I see dance,” he says. “My mother was a flamenco dancer, I was a contemporary dancer. I know every discipline you see in the show – and that’s why I choose dancers who are at such a high level, because I know all these movement styles so well.”
Blending so many styles together in one company could easily lead to each dancer being a Jack of all trades, master of none. Yet here, nothing could be further from the truth. What does Montalvo look for in a new recruit?
“Firstly, virtuosity,” he says. “The dancers I choose need to be very good in their own discipline. But then they also need to be open-minded and have a team spirit. To be able not only to concentrate on their own style, but understand that this company is full of a mixture of beautiful styles.”
Sharon Sultan is one such dancer. Like Montalvo’s mother, her speciality is flamenco, but she concurs with Montalvo that being part of his company has helped her grow in other areas.
“You learn all the time in a company like this,” she says. “Because there are 13 dancers, and each one of us has their own discipline – classical, contemporary, flamenco, tap dancing – it’s very cosmopolitan.
“We don’t learn steps from José, he just takes our material and creates something with his ideas,” explains Sultan. “He gives us space and freedom, then leads us towards something he knows is good for us. Working with José is always nice, because he’s so modest, and creating Don Quichotte in particular has been an amazing journey.”
Fusing disparate styles together in the same show marks Montalvo out as something of a maverick in the dance world. But he has stayed true to his ideals for over 30 years, and his public has learned to expect the unexpected.
“To begin with, people told me that mixing dancers in this way would never work,” says Montalvo. “They didn’t consider me a contemporary choreographer. But I kept going, no matter what anybody else said.”
Words Kelly Apter
When & Where
Don Quichotte du Trocadéro, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 29 - 31 August, 7.30pm. From £17, Tel: 0131 473 2000
L.A. Dance Project's Benjamin Millepied danced Swan Lake with Natalie Portman - and married her soon after
From the sixteen years he spent dancing with New York City Ballet to choreographing Natalie Portman in Black Swan, classical ballet runs through Benjamin Millepied like words through a stick of rock.
Yet in 2011, everything changed. The 36-year-old Frenchman left his home in New York, moved to Los Angeles and set up a contemporary dance company with a difference. Founded by Millepied and four other visionaries from the worlds of music, visual art, stage and film, L.A. Dance Project is a true artists’ collective.
Less than twelve months after its first public performance, the company has already secured dates at international festivals and venues other dance organisations could only dream of. So what is it doing right?
Part of the appeal is Millepied himself: charismatic, driven, multi-talented and with a burgeoning celebrity status that has helped keep L.A. Dance Project in the spotlight. Born in Bordeaux, he started dancing at the age of eight, taught at first by his mother (also a dancer) then at dance schools in both France and America. At New York City Ballet he quickly rose through the ranks from corps de ballet to principal, before moving into choreography.
But it was his role in Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film, Black Swan that really catapulted Millepied into the big league. Playing the Prince to Natalie Portman’s Odette during the Swan Lake scenes, he also choreographed the ballet movement, a job that not only brought him into the public eye, but changed his personal life completely.
A year after the film’s release, Millepied and Portman had a son together, and they were married in 2012. Millepied was also the subject of press interest when it was announced he would take over as director of Paris Opera Ballet in late 2014.
Despite the juggling act of running a dance company, a film company and being one half of a Hollywood couple, Millepied is, says L.A. Dance Project’s manager, Kathryn Luckstone, totally committed to the vision he created.
“The way Benjamin set up L.A. Dance Project gives those of us who work here full-time a lot of freedom to uphold his vision,” she says. “So we don’t necessarily need him to be around 24/7. It’s so clear how much he cares about this company, and he’s aware of all the day-to-day operations. His public status has never interfered with the relationship we have with him as the director.”
Millepied, Portman and their young son Aleph will move to Paris next year, but for now, Los Angeles is the perfect environment for Millepied to help this fresh and exciting new dance company to flourish. “Los Angeles was strategic, it wasn’t arbitrary,” explains Luckstone. “Benjamin already knew when he moved to Los Angeles that the vibe and the atmosphere here is completely different from New York, which has, in a way, become quite institutionalised. In New York, it can be very challenging and expensive for artists to try and do things differently – whereas the spirit of L.A. is that a lot of things can happen here very quickly.”
Before taking on her role at L.A. Dance Project, Luckstone worked for Mikhail Baryshnikov – a man Millepied has recently been compared to in the press. Luckstone agrees, but says it’s not just because both have moved from classical into contemporary dance, but because of their shared “passion, vision and willingness to take risks, that you don’t really see in many artists.”
That desire to take risks is evident in L.A. Dance Project’s Edinburgh programme, which features William Forsythe’s Quintett, Merce Cunningham’s Winterbranch and Millepied’s own Moving Parts. An entertaining and moving triple-bill, but certainly not an easy one.
“It’s a mixture of old and new and melodic and challenging,” says Luckstone, “and it goes back to Benjamin’s idea that not all art is comfortable. Sometimes we are challenged as an audience to think or feel a certain way, and it may not always be pretty – but that’s part of the experience, too.
“That’s something that is so inspiring about working with Benjamin, because there is no middle ground with him. When you set the bar high, you go big or go home – that’s the saying here.”
With performances across Europe already under their belt this summer, and Edinburgh on the horizon, L.A. Dance Project isn’t going home anytime soon.
Words Kelly Apter
When & Where
L.A. Dance Project, Edinburgh Playhouse, 24 - 26 August, 7.30pm. From £17, Tel: 0131 524 3333
(and a half)
Mother Africa is the circus meets music hall meets Africa. Energetic traditional dance numbers with a few modern twists punctuate the circus-style structure of the show with an impressive live band backing the whole thing. However, it does take the audience a little while to warm to the show due to a misplaced ring master (Mother Africa) performing a lack-lustre introduction that, rather than being met with “hands in the air”, is met with arms folded solidly across chests.
Social satire, disco party, exercise in disorientation - Figs In Wigs' show 'Food For Thought' is very much worth attending. The ensemble's website states that they "wouldn't go so far as to call it dance … but it's definitely movement," which should serve as a warning to anyone expecting a traditional dance show. On the other hand, if you're interested in shows that are fresh and innovative without too much pretentiousness, then 'Food For Thought' deserves to be at the top of your list.
(and a half)
The bizarrely named Knee Deep is a spectacular display of human strength and acrobatics. The team of four dazzled the audience with lifts, throws and balances which literally had the crowd gasping.
Flash Mob is a dance show mixing street dance, ballet, Irish and more into one massive show. Each genre gets its turn at centre stage and in the medley dances with all the acts.
Inviting three guest dance companies to share the stage, Booking Dance Festival 2011 in ‘Split Bill’ aims to feed their audience’s appetite for America’s freshest dance talent. Sadly the reality of ‘Split Bill’ left me and many others in the theatre completely unsatisfied.
I’m not a Britain’s Got Talent fan. Sure, I watch the auditions to laugh at the deluded ones but then, when it comes to the live shows, I switch off, literally. My mistake, because I missed Flawless. Wow. Wow, wow, wow.
It was a bit of a luxury getting out of the rain into one of the EICCs grand, air-conditioned auditoriums. It’s nice to feel like an executive in an oversized padded theatre seat, resting the aching feet for an hour or so, watching other people go wild on theirs. It’s intense.
It promised to be the spectacle of this year’s Fringe, the dynamism of parkour brought to the Edinburgh stage. And while the stunts are no doubt impressive, and the bodies on show even more so, there is something that feels a little empty about Free Run.
A dance marathon that’s a bit like They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Professional dancers alongside a bunch of amateurs, grooving along to a foot-tapping band? Great, I thought. Sounds like just the sort of thing I’m in the mood for...watching.
It’s a tale as old as time. Horse meets tiger. Horse considers stabbing tiger to death. Horse realises she’s in love with tiger and embarks on torrid love affair. We’ve all heard it a thousand times before. But somehow Juliet Aster manages to make it seem completely fresh.
In the final instalment of the Booking Dance Festival's extensive programme, ATHLETIC provides yet another astonishing array of world-class contemporary dance.
2012? Apocalypse! Then what? Little would remain in the smouldering landscape, to be sure, beside the odd cockroach, pile of nuclear waste and stray fringe flier. In this Post-Apocalyptic fantasy, civilization itself would have vanished; no more Magic Flute, no more Ninth Symphony. Instead out of the smoke we could expect to see a gallant clutch of Portuguese musicians emerging: ‘Be-Dom’. Looking like they’ve emerged from homeless shelter, the group would take up worn out oil drums, cans and buckets for instruments and start to rebuild music.
Following the story of one young man’s dream to become a footballer, the Zambezi Express shares a story of hope, community, love and spirit in this classic musical piece.
This show entertains and impresses with an energetic and eclectic mix of dance and choreography from six different dance companies consisting of over 30 highly talented dancers.
In association with Edinburgh Mela, Scottish outdoor theatre team Iron Oxide have produced Cargo - a charming mystical story of a young woman’s journey in search of her home. Using the international language of physical performance it explores the basic themes of loss, friendship, conflict and triumph in a charming, at times clumsy, whirlwind through a sea of poncho-clad audience members.
Walking into the beautiful surroundings of Assembly's new venue in Princes Street Gardens feels like escaping out of the madness of the festival into a more tranquil and peaceful kind of world. This delightful setting is perfect for former Cirque du Soleil clown Julien Cottereau and his joyful solo show, Imagine-Toi.
If this show really represents the life and spirit of Brazil, I’d like to purchase a one-way ticket to Rio de Janeiro right now. This incredibly sexy, passionate piece captivates the audience with the kind of rhythm and movement apparently inherent in Brazilians and unheard of in the British.
With six world-class American dance companies taking to the stage with Booking Dance's showcase, Beautiful, it's difficult to know where to begin. Fans of dance will be delighted by the smorgasbord of talent on show, while newcomers to the artform will be able to dip a toe in the water without being overwhelmed.
With over 50 celebrated works under his belt, you’d expect nothing but great things from the Michael Mao Dance group; and you would certainly not be disappointed in the second half of the modern dance performance of Split Bill: LYRICAL, part of the Booking Dance Festival 2010. It was an absolute feast for the eyes and ears, with impressive choreography, skilled dancing and a wide variety of musical pieces.
In association with Sadlers Wells and The Fruitmarket Gallery, Ballet Work No. 1020 is Martin Creed’s most recent commission since his immensely popular Work No. 850 in which he employed runners to sprint through the Duveen Gallery of Tate Britain every thirty seconds. In a similar vein to his previous works, Creed uses a strict formula, in this case the five ballet positions each ascribed a musical note, together with video and humour to create a charming, engaging and astute look at the changing effects of time, speed and direction.
Diversity may have grabbed the headlines, but Flawless, another group of Britain’s Got Talent veterans, are determined to forge something new and exciting on their own terms.Read more...
Standing in front of Simon Cowell can be a make-or-break moment for many performers. The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent judge is synonymous with caustic comments and career-ending remarks – so when he says you’re “one of the best acts I’ve ever seen”, you know you’ve got something special.
The Arches @ St Stephen’s
That women from the audience felt empowered and secure enough to shed their clothes, stand shoulder to shoulder with the nude cast, clothed members of the audience and join in a gutsy, bellowing rendition of Jerusalem in the show’s finale, is a feat that I have never before witnessed, and testament to the radiance and fortitude of Nic Green’s ‘Trilogy’.
First Class is one of those productions that it is very difficult to review. Imagine, if you will, Alice’s best-friend leaning in and asking, “So, Alice dear, how would you describe Wonderland?” She’d probably reply, “It’s blinking barmy, Emily dear!” and so is this wonderful, daft, warm-hearted show from Lecoq-trained “Half Wit” theatre.
The Arches @ St Steven's
The premise of 'Spaceman, 'a lone survivor undergoes evolutionary mutations to find out why he is alive', is at once exciting, but also an awkward and paradoxical concept for one man to physicalise on stage.
Kooky and involving, this commentary on red tape society and governmental control uses the setting of East Germany to illustrate the evils of government surveillance and defence tactics based on fear.
The Voodoo Rooms
Prepare to be transported to 1930’s Berlin, a world sexy, glamorous and debauched, with dazzling lights and colours, feathers and ribbons, jewelled gloves and fishnets, satin and suspenders.
Luxuria, performed by the Scottish Dance Theatre, is utterly beautiful in its story, dress and dance.
New Town Theatre
Nouvelles Folies is the new show from Fiat Lux, a French "silent Burlesque" theatre company, who blend together mime and slapstick for this hour of physical comedy.
New Town Theatre
Lights up. The portly Leygnac comes on stage with a suitcase clutched in his sweaty hand. Snap. He pulls from its shallow depths his lithe, yet momentarily wilted companion Thibaud. Hoisting him onto the piano stool, he starts to crank him up like an old car until he sparks into life with a sudden jolt and begins thumping on the piano’s keys. So kick starts these Frenchmen’s anarchic mime act full of physical humour.
DanceBase @ Out of the Blue Drill Hall
There are very few aerialists out there, and the skill itself is so astonishing that any display has great natural appeal.
New Town Theatre
Pedal percussion sends vibrations ricocheting through the audience in the New Town Theatre this Fringe. Dubbed as tap’s answer to High School Musical, Tap Kids are bringing their story of high school senior year to life on this, their European leg of their tour.
The Zoo Southside
For once, the promotional description of a show is justified. This piece by award-winning dance troupe 2FaCeD is bold, slick and expressive, not to mention athletically stunning.
The Zoo Southside.
Purportedly about four youngsters whose friendship fractures when they enter a big city, this physical theatre performance by the Russian group, Rain People, is obtuse and uncohesive, and the acting unconvincing. I can only presume that ‘inventing the sky’ is a dodgy metaphor for attempting to create a paradise in the city.
The Zoo Southside
Painting an apartment stripped of almost everything but the kitchen sink, an ‘i-click’, and a stamp-sensitive light system, Joey and Matt are not an ordinary pair of decorators. Their performance outstrips those generic hip-hop productions, colouring the genre with refreshing, down-to-earth comedy. Imaginative, quirky choreography stylishly transforms their mundane chores.
Assembly @ Assembly Hall
A polished hour of eclectic dance pieces, C!rca blurs the lines between physical theatre, contemporary dance and acrobatics. The performance is divided into a series of sketches: some are dramatic and emotionally charged, some silly and comedic. All the pieces are stylistically expressed with subtle lighting, projecting eerie shadows of the choreographed movement.
Assembly @ George Street
Some shows at the Fringe ooze quality and this is one of them – in style, grace and confidence Kataklo investigate Leonadro da Vinci’s passions – machines and the human form in a piece of dance that gripped me from the outset.
C Venues 34
If you’re looking for something a bit different, Sweet is a very entertaining production of… something a bit different. Award winning total theatre group, Chotto Ookii, return to the festival with their cynical anti-romcom, blending a mix of physical theatre, puppetry and comedy.
My personal experience of dance came to an abrupt end when, aged four, I was escorted howling from my ballet class because I apparently had a horror of “sweeping leaves”. Therefore, it was with trepidation that I discovered I was going to a Dance/ Physical Theatre adaptation of Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, the story of how a horrific disease (swine flu?!) catches up with a heartless noble and his equally ne’er-do-well friends, having barricaded themselves off from their suffering subjects.
The World @ St George’s West
With their relentless energy and irresistable rountines, this dance troupe sets a firework beneath the Fringe ahead of the Bank of Scotland display at the end of the Festival.
There isn’t a huge amount to be said about this production, as there is very little movement on the stage; a feature normally fundamental to a dance show. The venue is dark and incredibly hot, but one can’t help but feel that these are not the only factors in the show that may send you to sleep.
Dance Base, National Centre for Dance
Opening skits of drunken chanting as ‘lads’ and childish clapping games are a misleading introduction to this fast paced, sensitive and complex exploration of the events and experiences that shape male relationships. Rapidly shifting mood and tempo, from tender familial interrelations to feverish violence, are combined with exquisite choreography.
The World @ St George’s West
Mercy Madonna of Malawi is a lively musical which explores whether or not it is right for a child to be removed from her culture and family to enjoy a life of privilege. While the musical may not be an obvious format for the thought provoking discussion of serious moral dilemmas, the show manages to balance humour with a very real discussion of the issues.
Step it up
Only eight youngsters are chosen each year to perform in one of the most respected tap shows in America, Tap Kids, and now festival audiences can join in too.