Dance & Theatre
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
At Bristol Old Vic, June 6-8
549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War
Prestonpans Town Hall
Touring until June 23
By MARK BROWN
Contemporary dance is given to spectacle: which is hardly surprising, considering its visual and physical possibilities. However, rarely does a new company explode onto the stage with the invigorating brilliance of Rambert2.
The recently-established young company of the globally acclaimed, London-based Rambert dance company came to Edinburgh with three unforgettably distinctive, wonderfully performed pieces. Grey Matter is an astounding choreography for 12 dancers by Benoit Swan Pouffer, with immense music by “gothic dancehall” artist GAIKA.
With the exceptional assistance of lighting designer Lee Curran, the dancers emerge from and return to darkness in what looks and feels like an industrial rave ballet. The piece shifts back-and-forth between enthralling collective movement and equally impressive expressions of individualism.
At times beautifully balletic, at others emotionally and psychologically disquieting, Pouffer’s work has shades of the great video art of Bill Viola.
In the two-hander E2 7SD, Aishwarya Raut and Conor Kerrigan dance to a compelling sound sculpture by Oswaldo Macia and Santiago Posada. Rafael Bonachela’s choreography (re-staged by Antonia Grove), a modern, urban pas de deux, is sometimes illuminated (courtesy of Curran, once again) by blasts of huge back lights, which are reminiscent of the UFO arrival scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The combined visual/aural effect is of a fevered, energetic co-dependency that emphasises the vulnerability, delicacy and robustness of our humanity. It also places our quest for social, intellectual, romantic and erotic meaning in technological and existential contexts that tower above us.
The final part of the trilogy, Killer Pig (choreographed by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, and re-staged by Leo Lerus), manages, somehow, to exceed the amazingly high standards set by the first two pieces. A work for eight dancers, it is performed to superb, vigorous, beat-driven music by Ori Lichtik and lit (by Kevin Jones) with a responsive intensity that is in-keeping with the rest of the show.
The piece is characterised by a series of unique and startling visual motifs that make tremendous demands on the dancers. Early in the piece, performers crawl onto the stage like primeval animals.
The group dances are the most transfixing. Promenading on the balls of their feet, ankles in the air, as if walking on invisible stilettos, the dancers (four female and four male, dressed in tight, minimal costumes that emphasise every movement) pulsate to Lichtik’s beats with a power and precision that are truly mesmerising.
In a nine-month period in which Scottish dance audiences have had the great fortune to witness fabulous new works by Akram Khan and Natalia Osipova, it is no exaggeration at all to say that this memorable, high-octane showcase by Rambert2 is one of the highlights.
Not quite as astonishing, but admirable nevertheless, is 549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War by splendidly-named young, Scottish theatre company Wonder Fools. If you’ve seen Brian Welsh and Kieran Hurley’s new film Beats, you’ll recognise members of this cast. Cristian Ortega plays ill-fated raver Johnno in the movie, while Josh Whitelaw plays drug-dealer’s right-hand man Gary.
They and their Wonder Fools colleagues are joined by the fine, veteran actor Michael Mackenzie in this touring revival of a play in which (with shades of Gregory Burke and John Tiffany’s famous Black Watch) a Scottish pub is plunged into a war zone. Here, however, the war is not the relatively recent, disastrous invasion of Iraq, but the Spanish Civil War and, in particular, the 549 Scots who went to Spain to join the International Brigades fighting against Franco’s fascists.
The ghostly appearance of International Brigader Old George (played splendidly by Mackenzie) is the driver for a play which combines storytelling, dramatised battle scenes and songs (which are at their best when drawing on the anti-fascist and socialist traditions). Written and performed with commendable energy and commitment, the play is paralleled by an excellent archival project honouring the Scottish anti-fascist volunteers.
Rambert dance company returns to the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh in February: rambert.org.uk
For details of 549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War, visit: wonderfools.org
These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday and the Sunday National on June 2, 2019
© Mark Brown