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Edinburgh International Festival.

Anniversaries provide a great excuse for nostalgic reflection, and the fiftieth Edinburgh International Festival proved to be no exception, with the event marked by a small rain forest of print devoted to the history, development, and former glories of the world's largest annual celebration of the arts. Fonteyn, Helpmann, Balanchine, Cunningham, Nureyev . . . the catalog of great dancemakers who have made their way to the Scottish capital is impressive indeed, and with a dance program which this year included Mark Morris, Pina Bausch, the Martha Graham Dance Company, and Netherlands Dance Theater, it is clear that the Edinburgh Festival has lost none of its appeal or status.

Indeed, it almost seemed as if the companies visiting Edinburgh this year had used the occasion of these anniversary celebrations to indulge in a bit of reflection of their own, what with NDT presenting a range of Jiri Kylian works which spanned almost twenty years of his oeuvre, Bausch reviving one of her dance operas from 1974, and the Graham troupe's Radical Graham program. The fact that these companies so rarely visit Britain (Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal has been to Edinburgh twice in recent years but hasn't been seen in London since 1981, the Graham companys last London season was in 1979; and NDT, under Kylian's direction, has never performed in the English capital) may have had an impact on the choice of works brought to Scotland.

But even Mark Morris, in his fifth consecutive visit, dropped a nostalgic bagatelle into the mix of his repertoire program at the Festival Theatre. Or ten of them, to be exact, in Ten Suggestions, a solo he created for himself in 1981 set to Alexander Tcherepnin's piano Bagatelles, Opus 5. Touching, funny, and gay--in the old sense--this was practically the only glimmer of sunshine from Morris in an uncharacteristically dark evening of dance which placed the disquieting formations of World Power and the silent and starkly beautiful Behemoth at its center.

I Don't Want to Love isn't a bundle of laughs either, but Morris has only taken his lead from the set of Monteverdi madrigals at the heart of this Edinburgh Festival commission. Here, in a vocabulary of courtly gestures (and with more than a nod in the direction of classicism), an ensemble of seven dancers dressed in a white wardrobe by Isaac Mizrahi, illuminate the poetic romance of the madrigals. But like the dances that flow across the stage and off into infinity, the hems of Mizrahi's party confections of satin, muslin, and denim are left unfinished. It is an inspired device; after all, are those of us in love not apt to get a little frayed at the edges?

No such loose threads threaten to get tangled in Morris's chic staging of Gluck's Orfeo, with its tasteful tableaux and animated friezes. Technically speaking, this was part of the festival's opera program, but with Bausch's staging of Gluck's Iphigenie auf Tauris ("lphigenia in Tauris") and Miranda Richardson straying into the realms of physical theater with Robert Wilson's version of Orlando, demarcation lines between art forms are not easy to define.

To most observers in Edinburgh, Bausch's 1974 Iphigenie was nothing less than a revelation. From the woman who usually brings us her disjointed--if always fascinating--Stucke ("pieces") came lush, fluid, dance of the post-Kurt Jooss school, performed to devastating effect by the ensemble. Bausch's use of a basically pure dance vocabulary to highlight drama and emotion has seldom seemed more effective, and in Malou Airaudo's grief-etched Iphigenie there was a performance of almost unbearable intensity.

But Bausch isn't the only European choreographer to lately plough a more enigmatic furrow. Kylian's latest creations--for all the sleek precision engineering of his dances--are a good deal less cozily romantic than his early works, as NDT's repertoire in Edinburgh demonstrated. One could take issue with the rather cavalier way Kylian mix-`n'matches the music for his dances these days, but in the structure of cinematic jumpcuts and artfully neurotic allusions, few choreographers so effectively--or stylishly--reflect the zeitgeist.

Did Martha Graham do the same half a century ago? In many ways, of course, she was well ahead of her time, though that doesn't prevent her creations from looking somewhat dated now. But as the Graham company showed in Edinburgh, dancers like Terese Capucilli, Christine Dakin, Katherine Crockett, Rika Okamoto, and the rest of their rank-and-file sisterhood make Radical Graham more than just a fascinating exercise in dance anthropology. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the company's drearily lumpen men. But you can't have everything; not even at the biggest arts festival in the world.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Bowen, Christopher
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 1996
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