Boys Who Like to Play With Dolls; Give Me a Reason to Live; Special Edition 2015; Gaze of the Kavaluan; Oog

Lucy Ribchester reviews: Boys Who Like to Play With Dolls (3 Stars) | Give Me a Reason to Live (5 Stars) | Special Edition 2015 (4 Stars) | Gaze of the Kavaluan (3 Stars) | Oog (3 Stars)

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Published 16 Aug 2015

How much of our movement is gendered? And how much of it are we able to control if we take away or override these constructs? Boys Who Like to Play With Dolls, from Tereza Ondrová and Peter Savel, asks fascinating questions. At the opening both performers look almost identical in dress; same jeans, same pen tattoos. They begin striding patterns as if marking territory or learning a sequence. Later they do the same thing but to pop catwalk music, and their bodies, instead of blankly pacing, take on the signals of gender; a posturing shoulder, a wiggling hip. Sometimes the transitions are so fluid you have to watch keenly to catch them.

When Renaissance choral music takes over, the divide between masculinity and femininity becomes more blurred; celestial males recline too, and Madonnas have an earthy strength. By the piece’s end the choreography has morphed into something less binary. It’s a brilliant idea, crying out for this kind of attention. But the imagery sometimes feels fuzzy and it’s hard to know whether we are moving forwards, backwards or going round in circles.

If ever there was a performer to cut to the flesh of an idea it’s Claire Cunningham. Give Me a Reason to Live was commissioned as a response to a series of paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, but Cunningham has developed this brief to create a haunting, luminous portrait that challenges society’s relationship to disability. Her influences include the Nazi mass murder of people with disabilities and the UK government’s current policy of forcing those on benefits to prove their entitlement.

Throughout the piece she braces herself into uncomfortable positions, sometimes with crutches, sometimes without. Branching out her arms like an eagle’s wings, spread-fingered, she keeps the pose until ripples across her back make you realise how viciously she is pushing herself. This later returns in a passage where Cunningham stands silently without crutches and faces the audience. You can see her tremors begin and grow, and grow, and grow, until it feels unbearable to watch her hurt herself this way.

Contrasting this, she sometimes focuses not on her struggle but on her strength. Bent into A-form, she jumps back and forth, at first faltering, then bouncing with athletic grace; when she presses herself into the air to the rising of the score, the moment glows. Starkly different from the playfulness of previous show, Ménage à Trois, here Cunningham gives herself wholeheartedly in pain and grace. It’s brutal and stunning and reminds us how powerful, immediate and eloquent a language dance can be.

Scottish Ballet pioneered the format of Special Edition at last year’s Fringe and happily it went down a storm. They’re back again, offering bite-sized choreographies in a space that allows us to get far closer to the details of the dance than in any of their larger shows. Eve Mutso’s Ink of Innocence looks at what happens when an ink drop lands in a pool of water. It’s a gorgeous idea for dance and the details sing. But what really stands out here is the way Mutso and the dancers capture the pace of ink in water so perfectly.

Vincent Hantam’s solo gives a sprightly interlude in a piece created for him in 1980, but though he moves like a dream, the costume and soundtrack feel a little dated. More du jour is Jamiel Laurence’s 1 to 10, based on the idea of numbers having a particular movement, and playing to a current trend of quirky word-based dance. Evan Loudon and Victor Zarallo perform with dry wit and the punchlines are snappy.

Sharply performed and visually striking, Gaze of the Kavaluan from Taiwan’s Tjimur Dance Theatre turns its eyes on traditional obsessions with virginity and lust. Steeped in ritual—shockingly so at times—and visually arresting, themes of sexuality and violence oscillate. But sometimes it’s hard to get a handle on what’s at the piece’s core.

If you’ve never seen Al Seed before, the mastery of his physical style is enough to mesmerise. In Oog he explores the inner life of a soldier traumatised by war. In the opening section you can feel the nerves fizzing and short-circuiting as his hands twitch. A wild, cartoonish mania holds him above the surface for a while, then lonely isolation grips and the only way out is to drink. In Seed’s body the soldier’s pain feels fresh and vivid, but the concept of soldiers dehumanised and the motifs of grotesquery somehow feel less original. Still, Guy Veale’s unnerving soundscape, and the eerie larger-than-life design from Alex Rigg help to make this a haunting end to the evening.