Monday, August 13, 2007

this week at the fringe

well, you know that mr. mammoth is a music blog, but in case you're a little more cultured and like theater and spectacle as well as aural stimulation, here's my report on some shows i saw this week at the edinburgh festival. it was my birthday yesterday (woop woop), and i awarded myself the present of a ticket to the show that has been hyped beyond belief (and, possibly, beyond what it deserves) - i speak of none other than fuerzabruta. i also saw on danse, at the edinburgh international festival, and traces, playing at assembly rooms (where i am casually employed, get into shows for free, and presently biting off their free wifi). other shows of the week included best western and life in a marital institution, neither which were especially good or noteworthy.

on danse was very disappointing, considering how awesome its press photo was. the choreography was pretty incredible and humorous at the beginning of the show - frenetic, spastic dancing to calm, regulated classical music (all pieces by jean-phillipe rameau) - but it became rather tired less than halfway through the show. it was the uk premiere of the work by compagnie montalvo-hervieu, and a major centerpiece of the edinburgh international festival (different from the fringe, eif shows play only for a few days at most, and caters to an entirely different sort of audience). the crux of on danse was the projection screen that covered the entire back of the stage, on which hyperbolic and fantastic images were displayed, ones that the dancers on stage frequently interacted with. a fine trick, no doubt, and a finer one if i hadn't seen little howard recently. no, on danse's video was pretty neat, though also the source of their greatest shortcoming. the lighting of the show was simply atrocious. every performer had a line across their midsection, where the projector cut off at the bottom, a problem that could have easily been ameliorated with the addition of front lights, yet was not. the directors (mssrs. montalvo and hervieu) tried to inject a narrative of what dance is by inserting brief verbal sections at different points throughout the show, which, in reality, frequently served little purpose. on danse seemed crippled by its own potential - the images of elephants dancing on carpets was, once seen in context, deeply unsatisfying, a mere video trick, and one that was carried out without any of the physical exuberance of the dancing itself.

traces was an entirely different story. i see its poster every day, when i rush into assembly rooms (afraid of being late for the show i'm working on), which is now plastered with four- and five-star reviews, and i decided, one day last week, that i would go see it. so i did. it was pretty fucking cool. all heady lights and dank music (i'm not trying to sound like a stoner), and some of the more impressive acrobatic feats i've seen. the five person show is made up of people slightly older and younger than i, which really puts my inability to do a cartwheel in stark light. traces presents us with a emotionally and physically fragile setting, a veritable dystopia, into which these five kids are abruptly thrust. they mix work and play, catapulting their bodies every which way, performing from the pure joy and exhilaration of it - the pleasure they take it obvious every second of the show. interspersed with brief sketches - a member put in jail, a game show where the wrong answer results in death - traces is chock-full of darkness and desperation, sandwiched between amazing acrobatics that are all joy and light - dancing with a chintz sofa, or synchronized skateboarding. traces is visually stunning, a complete entanglement of the senses, and one of the rare shows that actually transports the viewer.

and now, fuerzabruta. if you're in edinburgh, you know that you cannot leave your flat without coming face to face with a flyer for this show - plastered on walls, billboards, buses, it is inescapable. also, very good. fuerzabruta is the second brainchild of the creators of de la guarda, a show that i know played in new york for many years, but one that i never went to (also, de la guarda is that rare phenomenon [fuerzabruta is as well] - a socio-cultural event without a wikipedia page). fuerzabruta's essential image is of a man running, and, indeed, it is a sight repeated several times throughout the show. lodged in the black tent, a self-designed space suited for the strangeness within, fuerzabruta is at times outlandish, at others a contradiction, but is most frequently amazing. after viewing fuerzabruta, one really gets a sense of what the term "total theater" actually means - not only does the show break the fourth wall, it breaks the first three as well. at the beginning, the audience is led in an empty, open space, demarcated most noticeably by four large pillars, light/sound/fog machine rigs that probably also serve as support for the tent. instinctively huddling in the middle, the crowd then parts, at the behest of the crew, for a wheeled structure - a skeletal metal frame with a stairway at one end - upon which a man runs, in a shirt and tie, on a moving walkway. he is shot once, then again, and after that, the show surrenders any attempt at narrative, choosing wisely to focus on the spectacle instead. fuerzabruta is a patchwork quilt made from a limited supply of fabric - despite the sheer beauty and originality of the work, too often were the most imaginative aspects of the piece recycled and reused, which begs the question of whether or not a narrative actually exists. the running man opens and closes the show - why? if fuerzabruta is not the kind of show you can ask that question of, then it behooves its director to imagine new elements of breathtaking splendor.

i don't want to give away fuerzabruta, in case you are in edinburgh, or are planning on seeing it at some point in the future, but i will answer two questions for you.

1. is it worth the appallingly high sum of £25 for a ticket? no.
2. is it pretty frickin cool? yes.

the thing that irked me and my date the most is that the show was only an hour long - we felt fleeced, to say the least. fuerzabruta positions itself as a part of the fringe festival, where most shows are an hour long, but by locating itself outside of the fringe (literally, in another city, leith), it consciously defies inclusion in the fringe - a troubled relationship. also, since this is a music blog, i feel compelled to note that i felt the music IN the show was excellent, but the pre- and post-show tunes were drab, old, and the very antithesis of what i felt the show to represent - something fresh, exciting, and not "intergalactic planetary" or "insane in the membrane." i can't guarantee that fuerzabruta is worth it -£25 is a lot of money, even for something as special and unique as this show is. and, despite my feelings of being let down by the length of the show, the reusing of original ideas so that they seem less original, and the appalling song selection by the djs, i fully and totally enjoyed fuerzabruta - it is really something i've never seen before, and am not likely to see again.

this is fuerzabruta's trailer:

photos courtesy of the edinburgh blog and beelzebub h disco.

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