Anyone interested in seeing the human body in all its raw splendour ought to make a bee-line to ZOO venues. (Some)Body (3 stars) by—take a deep breath—Alyona Ageeva Physical Theatre PosleSlov from Russia, and UK-based choreographer Dam Van Huynh’s DEP constitute an unofficial double bill of nude dance. What’s more, these two ensemble works can easily be seen back to (naked) back without breaking into a sweat running between the respective stages. The show’s creators have adopted radically different approaches to the presentation of flesh and bone. The net effect? Highly complementary.
Let’s start with the Russians. PosleSlov was one of my ‘finds’ at last year’s Fringe, the company’s work emitting a flavour—modest, devotional, at times almost artlessly artful—quite unlike anyone else’s. These qualities are present in (Some)Body, a show that comes across like living sculpture and mime given a benign, post-hippie spiritual overlay. It’s a calm and curious ceremony, unfolding as an episodic series of poetic/symbolic tableaux for an imperturbable, unrushed cast of six. For them, being unclothed is an unabashed, utterly natural state. Their movement is pretty basic, mainly consisting of statuesque poses or fairly rudimentary actions, and touch is minimal. The lighting is low-key, with an amber glow that highlights skin tones. The score, meanwhile, swings smoothly from classical to New Age-style tracks.
The pace of the performance is somewhere between hypnotic and lulling. If occasionally things seem a tad slack or amorphous, it’s plain that the cast’s focus is more on being than performing. (Revealingly, they don’t bother to cover themselves at the curtain call: their bodies are not costumes.) And there are lovely moments. When the smallest female dancer kneels centrestage three women surround her, each gathering a handful of her long brunette hair and stroking it as they sing. Although the untranslated vocal could be stronger, their unforced delivery is appealing. Afterwards the lone man in the piece, a truly handsome specimen, gently lifts the petite woman up into his arms and slowly exits. Their trusting, mutual tenderness is beautiful. Later the fellow executes brief jumps, landing with ankles crossed; his contained athleticism is gratifying. At the close he and Ageeva (a thin, articulately bony blonde with a wonderful just-hatched expression) face each other like a neo-Adam and Eve engaged in a simple but resonant exchange of energies.
The contrast with DEP (3 stars) is striking. Here we’re acutely aware of the weighted meatiness, strength and fragility of the remarkable, six-strong cast’s bodies as they grapple with each other, and struggle through the work’s desperately visceral abstract drama. DEP was inspired by ideas of death and rebirth sourced from Van Huynh’s Vietnamese heritage. This nub notion has been both impressively distilled and (over)extended to nearly an hour of running, carrying, rolling, collapsing and juddering. The dancers haul and drag each other about. Some slap their own flesh. They lay flat and jerk on the floor in what could either be some sort of apocalyptic death throes, a distressing orgasm, or both. It’s altogether challenging, blunt and frequently brutal stuff, and that includes Martyna Poznanska’s invasively loud, gruelling sound design. (And then the strobe light kicks in – yikes!) DEP has depth, but ultimately it is entirely subjective how illuminating all the sound, fury and self-indulgent suffering is.
ZOO remains one of the leading venues for dance on the Fringe, but there are healthy little pockets of activity elsewhere. Now based in Scotland, the American choreographer Éowyn Emerald has made recurrent and always welcome visits to Greenside. Her latest Fringe foray, Éowyn Emerald and Dancers (3 stars), is a mostly seamless, hour-long showcase for a cast of four—including Emerald, who is probably the one with the most fire in the belly—that plays out rather like the dance equivalent of a concept album. The dancing, set principally to a pleasingly eclectic string of indie-rock tracks from the likes of alt-J and The Lumineers, is loose-limbed, highly tactile and sometimes intricate in its reach for virtuosity. There are a few clunky bits but the overall impact is fresh and likeable, and enough to make you wonder how Emerald would fare with a bigger playing field. At times her dances seem ready to burst the seams of a space barely able to contain them. She might also benefit from other production resources, including a proper costume budget. What the dancers wear isn’t tasteless, just merely functional.
On Emerald’s heels comes a show called Elicitations (2 stars) by a company called Hack Ballet. Ambitious the programme may be, but it’s also somewhat amateurish. The first chunk of the bill, entitled ‘To The Edge’, is described as being about "searching for adventure, following your inspiration and being pulled back towards belonging and home". These vague motivations are at best fitfully realised by a cast of five, the choreographer Briar Adams among them. Two other pieces are offered up, both again saddled with lofty and fuzzy intentions. But there are usually discoveries of some kind to be made at a Fringe dance show. Here it was plain that it was the young Hulya Levant who was the one to watch for the sheer, concentrated pleasure she derives from dancing. Attila Andrasi, another lone male, evinces a confident sweep in his movement but too often without enough of a sense of personal character. He’s also saddled with a dreadful trouble-couple duet for him (beleaguered) and Adams (clingy). Still, they both survive it, and so do we.