Sunday 5 August 2012

It's The Russian Winter! In August!

Of course, any advice I give is always based on my own failures. So, really, don't overdo the Russian festival in one go. I spent a day at Assembly Roxy, catching the former USSR's finest. And now, I am tired, over-excited and slightly confused about the last few hours. Have I really been to hell and back again, returning as a sunflower growing on a stage covered in shit?

Derevo, Akhe and Do share approaches and flourishes. There is much dust cascading down from on high, white face paint, choreography that stops short of being disciplined dance technique, and an emphasis on the startling visual moment. The highlights of all three shows remain as static shocks in the memory. A scarecrow awakening to daylight, three conspirators swapping words around a table, a name spelled out in threads of light. Taken together, the Russian aesthetic is overwhelming and,, unfortunately, predictable.

Do were up first with Hangman. Perhaps the most thematically ambitious, it took the children's game, conflated it with the brutal occupation, and offered a series of sketches based around the nature of the word as image. Spectral, then rough, it dances around the consequences of using certain words (a hand is nailed to a book at the climax of a game) and the way that the image can replace the thing in itself. On a stage covered in newspapers - themselves oddly fragile against the eternal presence of the internet - Do provoke through veiled threats and the persistent clatter of a typewriter, bringing their fictions to visible and dynamic life.

Assembly Roxy, 3 -27 August

Then Akhe gave me Mr Carmen. The least satisfying of the three, the pair of performers reduced the tale of sex and death and bull-fighting to an elongated bicker between two unsettling clowns. Akhe suffer by comparison to Do - they are slower and more concerned with building up their set, and the narrative of Carmen is reduced to symbols and repeated writing of names. There is a menace in the performer's activies - they are goading each other towards madness - but the recognisable features of the Russian style become disappointingly predictable. The use of the staging, however, is intriguing and suggests that Akhe, who often collaborate with other companies, are more comfortable building than acting.

Assembly Roxy, 3-27 August

If the afternoon was a contest, Derevo won. It's no surprise to me: they have the most choreographic style, and the physical discipline of the performers gives them a visceral hardness. Last time, they dissected love: this time, it's hell, or something imagined by Bosch.

Although the description claims that this is the story of a scarecrow. Fair enough, the main character does stand in a field, rattles tins and has a nest for a hat. But he gets covered in shit, smashes a big melon (its skin illustrated like a globe), dresses up like a demented Roman Emperor, faces off a giraffe/woman/skeleton hybrid and wanders off with a big scythe. The seasons do pass, and it is strong meat: even when Frosty the snowman rolls up (and melts, inevitably), there's no "wonder of nature" subtext.

Surprisingly, the ending is relatively happy - a joyous return of summer. Luckily they get mysterious for the bow, and Derevo disappear (until the next Fringe) to plot the next assault on the mundane surface.

Assembly Roxy, 3-27 August

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