Thursday, 7 August 2014

Some Old Editorial...

At the same time as cabaret gains valuable Fringe territory, dance and physical theatre is maintaining a solid, if unspectacular presence. Between the stand up comics and ambitious student theatre companies, dance's willingness to experiment makes it a tough sell, yet it is still attracting audiences. The expansion of Zoo venues, the presence of the Booking Dance Festival, alongside the cunning programming of Morag Deyes at Dance Base has given choreography a stronger identity, one that spills out and continues to influence other art forms. The very rise of physical theatre - essentially works led by movement rather than script - points to its broader influence.
The revelations this year have included the dynamic arrival of New York burlesque acts like Peekaboo Pointe and The wau Wau Sisters. Unlike their British counterparts, these acts do not come exclusively through a vaudeville tradition, but have adapted it to their own skills and enthusiasms. When the brief panic erupted around audience participation going a little too far, it was these acts who were scaring the children.
Burlesque has been embattled this year: perhaps a victim of its own success, its purpose has been questioned and its feminist credentials challenged. Ultimately, any critique of art cannot rely on a specific ideology, and attacks on the genre as anti-feminist are beside the point: the real question lies in the quality of the routines, and whether they have clarity of expression.
Equally, like every art form, it has internal rules of audience engagement. A critic has a duty to respect these, and attack it on its own terms. To blame burlesque for its use of nudity is the same as complaining that ballet is not realistic as the men wear tights and the women tutus.
Ballet itself is surprisingly absent from the Fringe: across the year, it is the most popular form of dance. In its place, smaller contemporary companies get a chance to shine: Shimmy favourites Collisions have taken a leap forward, while Scottish Dance Theatre were joined at Zoo by occasional guest choreographer Liv Lorent and the masculine muscle of Jean Abreu. Despite being the as far away from stand up as it is possible to be - unless you caught the Curious Seed slot atDance Base - contemporary dance is an ideal form for the Fringe. It is intrinsically radical, naturally marginal and capable of moments of intensity that crack open the complacency caused in audiences by the overwhelming flood of choices and shows.
Over at the International Festival, the dance line up has scored over the straight theatrical: Pina Bausch's company while her legacy is still intact, and Lemi Ponifasio blowing minds. Both fitting Jonathan Mills' vision of a themed programme, and a series of excellent individual events, dance is a strong strand that improves the EIF's overall star ratings.
Finally, the Fringe is a bonanza for the critic. There is no better opportunity to get annoyed by ratings, toy with different ways to advocate and critique, or establish an outrageous reputation. The Shimmy threw in its commitment to pluralism and diversity, by reviewing the same shows several times, offering artists the right to reply and generally muddying the waters of the definitive star rating. Long may the confusion continue.

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