You might not love everything at Dance Base, but there are always discoveries to be made at the only Fringe venue devoted to dance in all its forms. This year’s roster of artists is once again richly varied, international and hand-picked. Artistic director Morag Deyes does her best to import some of the globe’s more notable (and smaller-scaled) movers and shakers without neglecting her own backyard, Scotland.
Pairing Emma Jayne Park’s It’s Not Over Yet… and Tess Letham’s How to Survive the Future (3 stars) is savvy programming. Each is a solo by a Scottish dancer-choreographer who’s using performance to illuminate personal experience. It makes for an apt, if not entirely satisfying, double bill.
Park creates work under the handle Cultured Mongrel. What’s not over for her yet is both the fallout from having been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 30, and life itself. When the audience enters Park is already ensconced on a blue plastic chair in a regulation hospital gown. She starts by making sweeping, semaphore-like gestures to a repeated pop-rock instrumental, then begins pulling wispy strands from her long, blonde (but black at the roots) wig. Later she cuts her faux hair with a razor. A multi-coloured mass of pills splatters to the floor beneath her like she's having a bowel movement. She scoops up and stuffs several handfuls into her mouth, along with hair, and then chews and drools. Occasionally she utters quiet reassurances ("I’m fine, I’m fine") to invisible visitors, and maybe also to herself. At times her long, handsome and expressive face conveys distress as well as a weird, possibly drug-induced ecstasy. What Park has done is turn illness into a serio-comic, almost cabaret-like and undoubtedly cathartic piece of body-horror performance. It’s uncomfortable, funny and moving, with a truthful core that transcends any possible accusation of self-indulgence.
Park was guided by Charlotte Vincent, an astute and experienced UK choreographer and director. Letham’s solo, based upon having survived unspecified but severe trauma, might also have benefited from a stronger outside eye. Like Park, she uses facial mobility to humorous effect. In her opening gambit in bathing costume and pink wig, she tries—but fails miserably—to unwind with a relaxation tape. Her pained physical awkwardness is highly amusing. Subsequent scenes, sometimes introduced by earnest but banal voice-overs, don’t take off or connect. Why the tango moves in a floppy black hat and stylish dress, or the brief bout of (admittedly skilful) gurning in a red wig? Letham also rolls on the floor in a blunt, overlong display of angst and, a mite more effectively, wafts eyes shut to a celestial soundtrack vocal. She’s a capable dancer whose solo plainly stems from a genuine place, but it’s ill-shaped. Towards the end there’s a lovely, emotionally delicate surprise involving seashells, but a coda cued to Sinatra lacks—like Letham’s solo overall—rigour.
Although Irish choreographer Liz Roche’s WRoNGHEADED (3 stars) premiered nearly two years ago, it remains relevant in light of last May’s referendum result to reverse the country’s long-standing anti-abortion law. Roche’s challenging two-hander isn’t overtly political. If anything, it may be too artfully elliptical for its own good. The look is commendably clean and elegant while the tone is heightened, even fraught. Sarah Cerneaux and Justine Cooper shift, often in convulsive unison, across or at the borders of a rectangular white floor. Upon it is projected Mary Wycherley’s dramatic, impressionistic and, from our perspective, distorted film footage (of ice melting in Perspex boxes, say, or a woman in a lace gown arching against a strangely lactic, cave-like backdrop). The dance and visuals are accompanied by poet Elaine Feeney’s text, a dense, urgent voice overloaded with sexual references ("honey fungus hole" was the choicest phrase) and delivered with a sense of furious frustration. Feeney’s incessant disgorge is exhausting, setting up an unresolvable war between listening and watching. Still, this is an intelligent work, well-performed, and one that’s likely to strike a chord in those who stay on its wave length.
Some of the shows by men at Dance Base this year are more easily digested, if also less complicated thematically. There’s much to admire in This Is The Title (4 stars), a solo dating from 2012 by the Nigerian-Finnish dancer Ima Iduozee. Long, lean and shaven-headed, and trained in both hip hop and contemporary dance, he’s a beautiful mover, adept at juxtaposing sleek motion with gently suspenseful stillness. In neutral street clothes, and operating in a sometimes flickering light, he rolls, melts and skates across a bare stage to Kasperi Laine’s minimalist sound design. Iduozee embodies contradictions: swift yet languid, soft yet gyroscopic. He does indeed, to quote the hand-out, combine power and grace. What’s more, at 25 minutes, his light, playful and sensitive solo doesn’t outstay its welcome. Refreshing.
In 2016 a handful of young South African men, under the direction of Morgan Njobo, won audiences over in a rough-hewn but incredibly lively show called I Am Rhythm. They’ve returned to Dance Base with SOWhErTO Africa (4 stars) another outburst of cultural pride and vivacity meant to impart the flavour and energy of street life and masculine bonhomie. On press day the tech gremlins are active, putting paid to film projections designed to enhance the cast’s song and dance skills. But these jittery-footed crowd pleasers are so patently eager to entertain us that it doesn't matter. Donning gumboots for a stomping, body-clapping demonstration of rhythm, they become a pack of beaming and driven flirts who exude a simple but keen joy of performing.