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In dance terms, the last Edinburgh International Festival before the millennium turned out to be one of the richest, most varied, and most controversial of this decade. Clearly, artistic director Brian McMaster is unafraid of taking artistic gambles, even if some of his choices struck others as woefully wrongheaded.

McMaster's dance program was book-ended by retrospectives from Sweden's Mats Ek (represented by Cullberg Ballet at the cavernous Edinburgh Playhouse) and French wunderkind Boris Charmatz.

Ek was both loved and disparaged by audiences for his radical reinterpretations of two classical ballets. Ek choreographs in an unmistakably dramatic style that is based in classicism but has barefoot roots in the passions and functions of the body. His Giselle is a triumphant balance of expressive clarity and emotional ambiguity; its conceptual coup is the setting of the second, "white" act in a madhouse. In his ambitious Sleeping Beauty, Aurora is a spoiled, bourgeois youth who is in love with a drug-addicted Carabosse. Here, an already complex story line is loaded with more red-herring reinventions than it can comfortably carry. Ek's contemporary triptych, She Was Black, Solo For Two, and A Sort Of braved a tightrope between vigorous surrealism and baffling symbolism. The Cullberg company danced all three programs full-out.

With only four choreographic works under his belt, twenty-six-year-old Charmatz may seem an unlikely candidate for a retrospective. But the pieces on view (presented in an unconventional manner in the Edinburgh Festival Theatre) revealed a far-reaching, thought-provoking talent. He devised A bras le corps (roughly translated as "to take strongly") with dancer Dimitri Chamblas in 1993 when they were still in their teens. It is a fresh, direct, male duo which was set in an intimate arena formed by bleacher seats. Less accessible was Les Disparates, the intriguingly self-absorbed solo Chambias made for Charmatz (and an inert sculpture) the following year. Charmatz went on to more daring, and literal, heights in AATT ENEN TIONON. Here the audience was free to roam around an open-sided tower that housed three half-naked dancers, each isolated on a separate platform. These dances lasted about one half hour, while herses (une lente introduction) doubled that length. This was a vision of utopia for a quintet of Adams and Eves, nude save for wigs indicating prehistoric style. Movement ranged from mimetic gesture to fleshy clusters of larva. Charmatz's choreography frequently demanded intense physical effort then moments of zoned-out respite. It is his willingness to ask questions of himself and his art that brands him as an experimentalist to be closely watched.

Other performances were either spectacular or went spectacularly awry. Dutch National Ballet [see also Dutch National Ballet, page 116] appeared in William Forsythe's bare-boned, fractured postmodern fairy tale, Artifact. Chaos fought order in a four-part epic streaked with pure dance displays of spiky, streamlined lyricism. Although minus a clear-cut narrative, this 1984 piece is driven forward by an elusive and allusive use of words and symbolic characters, including a benevolent, babbling Faerie Queen (the superb Kathleen Fitzgerald).Artifact looked splendid on the Festival Theatre's vast, naked stage.

Appetite, a collaboration between Americans Meg Stuart and Ann Hamilton, an installation artist, and The Most Dangerous Room in the House, by Susan Marshall fared less well there, to put it mildly. Appetite, with its large-scale performance-art feel, was the work of Stuart's Brussels-based ensemble Damaged Goods. The critical consensus was that it was pretty, terrible. Marshall's intended urgent abstract psychodrama [see also Susan Marshall & Company, March Dance Magazine, page 102] was regarded as merely dull. Neither piece was really at home in the Festival Theatre venue. Appetite was not designed to satisfy the cravings of anyone hungry for a choreographic banquet. Rather, it illuminated aspects of human nature via a visual and behavioral asylum logic. Structurally, Most Dangerous Room might be considered Vague or annoying', but within its limitations, Marshall's swirling movement vocabulary and fragmentary use of space effectively conveyed fleeting patterns of thought from the troubled psyche of her middle-aged protagonist.

After these two critical debacles, Cuerpo de Sombra y Luz (Body of Darkness and Light)--Juan Carlos Garcia's dreamy, sensual meditation on collusions of flesh, spirit, and art, fashioned for his Barcelona-based company Lanonima Imperial--slipped into the Playhouse and concluded the festival unscathed.

Under the heading "Dance and Physical Theatre," Edinburgh's Fringe Festival lumped together dozens of performances that would never ordinarily rub shoulders. Dance Base took the lead in presenting Scottish choreographers in varied performances at The Famous Grouse House. The roster featured especially admirable work from Norman Douglas in his ravaged couple's dance Morir Por Ti (To Die for You); Alan Greig in Threesome, an invigorating stitching together of three solos; and soloist Anna Krzystek's Zer-O, a perfectly calibrated

response to the imagery and rhythms of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The two-venue Continental Shifts program handled more of the international physical theater contingent. This included Deadly, a well-crafted blend of circus skills and dance that examined the seven deadly sins from the perspective of a heterosexual couple (Brazilian Rodrigo Matheus and New Zealander Deborah Pope, performing as No Ordinary Angels).

The absolute feel-good hit of the Fringe was Gumboots, an attempt by the creative team behind Tap Dogs to create another percussion-based global phenomenon. This one draws on a unique dance form developed by the exploited black laborers of South Africa's gold mines. Forbidden to talk, they communicated by slapping out messages with their heavy rubber footwear. Headlined by twelve tireless, bare-chested male beauties, the show eschews grim cultural history in favor of an infectiously upbeat song-and-dance party atmosphere. Properly marketed, Gumboots could be the first surefire dance-based entertainment of the new millennium.
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Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUS
Date:Dec 1, 1999

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