Friday, 4 September 2009


30/8/09, Zoo Southside (Edinburgh Fringe)

Dance and physical theatre piece with five dancers (three men, two women, plus another man and a woman who made occasional uncredited contributions) choreographed by Maresa von Stockert. Dance as political allegory.

At the start the five come on to loud martial music, marching, wheeling, shooting, saluting while dressed in uniforms and yellow sashes. The era could be any time from the 1940s to the 1980s: a drab police state, perhaps soemwhere in Eastern Europe.

We hear a dissident young couple rowing in voice-over about his political activism while watching them dance: rolls, lifts, scissor movements up and over and under and around one another. First he holds her then she holds him, defying gravity and expectations. Physically it's breathtaking but the voice-over is unconvincing.

As they dance one of the uniforms enters their home and steals one of his shirts, stuffing it into a glass jar. Next we see two functionaries in white coats with little folding tables "analysing" two similar shirts extracted from glass jars. They snigg, measure, fold, unfold, eventually turning into dogs on all fours, tossing the shirts in their mouths.

The dissident's half-brother is stopped by the political police and questioned, threatened and urged to shop him, the scene accompanied by secret policeman's patter and more rolls and lifts.

Then we see the half-brother at work, filing. At the back of the stage are two cages on wheels, the back wall facing the audience filled with shelves of box files; they can be turned to reveal interiors. Now one is turned (by the dancer playing the half-brother, with considerable effort) to reveal a woman sitting surrounded by concertina files. She extracts a cup from one, then a saucer and then pours tea for our hero (the use of props throughout is extremely ingenious), then the concertina files on the floor develop a mind of their own and start rising out of the floor. The couple (it later turns out this is meant to be a dream sequence) are forced to take to the walls and then the ceiling of the cage to escape.

The dissident's wife is taken in for questioning and literally enmeshed by her interrogators in the coils of quarter-inch tape used to record the bugs in her home.

There are signs of diminishing imagination as we proceed. There's a frankly puerile scene when one of the men's wives comes to report her husband missing and a large box next to her eats her handbag and the functionary who greets her through a hole in the box files then comes round to dance with her... and with a banana that turns into a phone.

The music is as much FX as anything, with shades of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra now and then. The spoken text is variable: the secret policemen (one sporting a rat-like countenance and the pencil moustache of a 1940s spiv) are effective, at other times you just wish they'd shut up and get on with the dancing.

At the end the regime collapses. The marchers return but now their movements are jerky and nervous and, like the Duracell bunnies, they gradually run down, develop repetitive faults or get stuck in corners. A new regime takes over. One of the men in uniform deliberately changes his yellow sash and badge for a red badge and scarf then walks into one of the cages where there's a table and lamp... and attaches them to the ceiling, the world turned literally upside down.

Our heroes in jail cells push out the box files which scatter across the floor; they hang from the ceiling and walls; their wives dance in anguished fashion amid the litter of boxes at the back of the stage.

Then the functionaries of the new regime appear and robotically and methodically start to build a wall of boxes while the dissident disassembles some of the other box files and scatters them wildly about. At the end the wall is destroyed.

Mostly inventive, with real skill and passion in the dance, but the allegory sometimes a little too obvious. A pitifully and undeservedly small audience at 11 in the morning.

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