Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Embrace @ Botanics

Vision Mechanics are firmly in the 'visual theatre' school: using puppetry and video alongside live performers, their site-specific Embrace is a gentle, comforting essay on the importance of environmental awareness that preaches softly while guiding the audience around an area of rural beauty.

At Edinburgh's Royal Botanics, the promenade takes in the night-time sights and sounds of cultivated horticulture, but questions the human relationship with the wild. Using the historical story of Amrita Devi as the basis for a meditation on how humans have opposed environmental destruction, director and performer Kim Bergasal leads the audience through an episodic spectacular.

Despite an opening scene in a protest camp - a line of tents containing conversations between the protestors and sketching out the range of environmental discussions - the politics are clear: humans ought to respect nature, and throughout history have maintained this respect in the face of aggression. Devi herself was killed hugging a tree, but her death inspired the introduction of protected woodland. The appearance of wood-spirits (aerial artists in day-glo glory) evokes the more spiritual corners of Green thought, but is performed with charm and finesse so that sentimentality never overcomes the performance.

Vision Mechanics' promiscuous use of approaches (a video from Robbie Thomson, an Indian dancer, an audio tour berating over-use of social media) ensures that there is a meandering narrative line that encourages reflection rather than emotional engagement. Bergasal does express comic worry that the police are on their trail, but Embrace  is too good hearted to dwell on the violence and conflict between protesters and businesses. Rather, it aims for the warm, if fuzzy, sentiment for nature's unspoilt value and the possibility that humans can respect it. 

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