Church Hill Theatre
Things run deep in the 1927 company’s new compendium of folk tales, unearthed from the recesses of the British Library archive and brought to life for Edinburgh International Festival’s You Are Here strand. After their last EIF adventure with The Magic Flute, 1927 have gone back to their DIY origins with a mash-up of expressionistically inclined action performed by writer/director Suzanne Andrade and Esme Appleton, Paul Barritt’s ingenious animation and a musical score by Lillian Henry expanded to incorporate all manner of junk shop noises played by David Insua-Cao and Francesca Simmons. As a bonus, the baker’s dozen of tall tales come with extra added lip-syncing to narration and occasional characterisation from a plethora of accents.
This gives more colour and shade to the stories, which feature a menagerie of little creatures, from the fattest cat you’re ever likely to see, and a very chic looking beatnik ant fending off numerous suitors with deadpan subtitled disdain. There are ogres inhabiting a Wild West scenario, the unluckiest man alive and a self-aggrandising king with a – to be kind – unreconstructed attitude to women that should see him tossed off the throne forthwith.
This is all delivered as what is essentially a living storybook, with Andrade, Appleton and co transforming themselves with assorted hats and wigs or else simply pressing their faces to various holes in the wall and letting Barritt’s animation do the rest. The double-edged sword of the title of this co-production between 1927, EIF, HOME, Manchester and assorted American and European partners finally comes home to roost in the final story, a grotesque tale of the unexpected that trickles into old-school fantasy.
1927 may be getting back to their own roots, but their imaginative palette has expanded into the realms if the fantastical, while the full umbilical roots between ancient and modern forms of folk tale is brought home in the multi-faceted ways of sharing that suggests the international language of storytelling is more than safe in their hands.
Usher Hall, Edinburgh
MASCULINITY, with all its attendant and recently well-documented dangers of toxicity, is at the heart of Richard Strauss’s huge tone-poem, Ein Heldenleben, A Hero’s Life, in a way that it is impossible to imagine a contemporary composer writing today, for all that it is alive and well in the swagger of pop and rock, hip-hop and rap. Yet at the heart of both the RSNO’s recent Linn label recording of the work, the debut with the orchestra of music director Thomas Sondergard, and Saturday’s performance of it under the baton of Edward Gardner, were two women, the orchestra’s co-leaders Maya Iwabuchi and Sharon Roffman. While Iwabuchi’s approach to the part seemed to emerge from the section, Roffman sounded more the projecting soloist in what was an equally eloquent reading of the part, and which served to balance a slightly less dramatic approach to the whole piece by Gardner than that adopted by Sondergard both in the studio and in concert. The other key ingredient again, of course, was the orchestra’s principal hero of the horn, Chris Gough.
Composer James MacMillan’s even larger meditation on the beginnings of life, Quickening, setting the verse of Michael Symmons Roberts for three vocal groups as well as a vast orchestra, premiered at the BBC Proms a century after Heldenleben, and was revised by the composer for this concert as part of the Festival’s celebrations of his 60th birthday. Although both abstract and visceral, and rooted in the devout Catholicism of both men, Quickening has nothing to say about the joys and responsibilities of fatherhood, in which the poetry of Symmons Roberts is combined with “Babel-babble” written by the composer himself.
Although the scoring is vast, from the steel drums at the start to the Usher Hall organ, it is the vocal elements that make the biggest impact, MacMIllan’s lifetime experience writing for the human voice finding full expression in the performances of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, the sextet of male voices of The King’s Singers and, from the top tier of the auditorium, the RSNO Junior Chorus. The youngsters have the last, moving, word, and they – like the adult chorus – made a superb job of communicating MacMillan’s “babble”, but the whole work is full of memorable moments, with the evocation of midwifery by the mezzo-sopranos of the chorus in the work’s second section arguably still the strongest by its end.
Trisha Brown: In Plain Site
Outdoors, at Jupiter Artland. It had rained heavily – the green swards squelched muddily underfoot as we took to the Artland’s terraced earthworks to watch the Trisha Brown Dance Company move free of conventional spaces.The moment when nine figures, in pristine white trousers and tops, took up their positions on the slick wet grass felt thrillingly elemental. Slowly, precisely, their limbs unfolded into the clean-cut lines of Brown’s Another Story as in Falling (excerpt) 1993: an outstretched arm, a spraddling walk, a held balance – never hurried, never flamboyant, sometimes coinciding in unison, sometimes in a kind of visual counterpoint and all juxtaposed against the rising curves of Charles Jencks’s Life Mounds.
Other contexts and other dances continued and expanded on the sense of a living dialogue between Brown’s choreography and the spaces it inhabits – and while there is a deeply philosophical (and indeed intellectually rigorous) dimension to these fine adventures, the essence of In Plain Site is about how you look at movement, what you see when it’s not contained in a formal theatre environment, and how your own thoughts will dance with new and enjoyable understanding as a result. We wandered through loam-scented woodland, to the clearing at the Quarry and finally to the Artland Ponds and the exquisite serenity of Raft Piece (1973). En route lone soloists mapped the limited space of metre-wide wooden squares, the angles of their pliant, punctilious bodies carving out Brown’s geometries. A burst of the Grateful Dead boosted the dance equivalent of the Minister’s Cat – an incremental/repetitive solo full of fun and tricksy details- and, more cunning whimsy, with two niftily wriggling men dressing and undressing on a horizontal lattice of ropes… and never coming down to earth. Light fading, the sound of water lapping, four small floating platforms and four dancers honouring the late Trisha Brown’s passion for bodies writing invisible architectures in time and space. Ephemeral beauty… lasting memories.
Shooglenifty: East West
There was nearly a minor international incident here. When it was
announced that Shooglenifty’s late, talismanic fiddler, Angus Grant
wrote The Nordal Rumba in Asturias, the three young women who make up
the band’s Galician guests, Tanxugueiras adopted a hitherto
Asturias, the word was, is the lesser of these two territories in
northwest Spain, although that didn’t prevent Tanxugueiras from
imbuing the rumba with their trademark tambourine virtuosity. With
their deftness of touch and intricate finger detail, watching and
listening to these women is akin to having three Airto Moreiras
Just as they did at Celtic Connections earlier in the year, along with
their fellow visitors, singer and harmonium player Dayam Khan and hand
drummer Chanan Khan of the Rajasthani group Dhun Dhora, the Galicians
added a thrilling extra dimension to Shooglenifty’s well plotted moody
grooves and Gaelic reeling.
Dayam Khan’s vocal tone and frank spirituality have a fantastically
uplifting effect. Even in the encore, while his countryman got
involved in impromptu jamming with jaw harp and percussion, Dayam Khan
found a space for his voice to proclaim with soulful depth.
Tanxugueiras’s singing is as special and as beautifully woven together
as their tambourine playing. They don’t just put the elation into
ululation, there’s marvellous tone production and carefully percussive
diction at work in their exuberant harmonising.
Like the Rajasthanis they find their own way into Shooglenifty’s
sound, which has remained remarkably constant through personnel
changes, and as well as featuring a lovely solo from another guest,
fiddler Laura Wilkie, it also inspired a dancing stage invasion by an
enthusiastic audience not used to sitting down to appreciate their
In association with Edinburgh Gin.