An Edinburgh Festival Diary Day 3

Day 3 introduced some ballet to my Festival diet, spiced with another bookish discussion.

In fact I went to two separate performances by Scottish Ballet which formed part of their Ballet Odyssey weekend programme.  In the morning we went watched 5 duets, sitting on temporary seats constructed on the stage, such had the safety curtain not been down we wold have been looking straight out into the auditorium.  The theme for the weekend was for dance to be stripped down to its bare minimum, so the music was recorded and there was minimal staging.  Instead, from the second row of the stand, we were within 10 feet of each pair of dancers.

Ballet is another of those things I know very little about, and even though I always looks for narrative in any piece, the mime and significance of dance gesture usually passes me by.  What I could see, sitting so close, was the energy and strength of the performers, all those sinews stretching, all that core strength.

I was never one of those little girls who dreamed of being a dancer, for a start I can’t point my toes, and for another, I was far too tall and the girls who went to dance classes were those tiny, skinny girls.  This might be one of the reasons that the elfin ballerinas on stage don’t really engage me, no matter how dainty.  So it is perhaps not surprising that the duet I enjoyed the most was one performed to Rachmaninov, by a ballerina as tall as her partner, shapely and athletic; I could see the story here too, of them finding romance together after a bashful, hesitant start.

Of the five duets, three were of a traditional style, and two were more modern, choreographed around soundscape rhythms rather than melodic music.  In one, the ballerina’s feet never touched the ground, and she was held by or entwined around her partner for the whole piece.  In the other, the dancers performed repetitive mechanistic movements in time to an insistent beat.  I enjoyed it all, but a significant part of that enjoyment was in being able to see such intensity of concentration and effort close by.

In line with the idea of Odyssey, after the duets, we were led to the foyer of the Festival Theatre to watch a new work danced to a mash up of noise and disco.

I’m very interested to compare my reaction to these pieces, to the circus acrobatic performers we have tickets to see on Monday evening….

On the walk back from the Old Town to the New Town for the Book Festival event, we walked along part of the Royal Mile as I had yet to see any of the Big Five street performers I have set myself as my safari objective– a juggler, a stilt walker, a unicyclist, a fire eater and a tap dancing string quartet. I saw some, and turned down a score of leaflets advertising shows. There is some category debate: does two unicyclist jugglers count as one or two?  I’ll have ironed this out by the end of my Festival experience.

Back at the Book Festival we went to listen to Amit Chaudhuri talk about his book on Calcutta.  During the talk he touched on the idea in Bengal that the concept of the perfect conversation is one that wanders from one subject to any other, and will give equal weight to the discussion of a cup of tea or the political agenda of the government.  This meandering, expansive philosophy of discussion was apparent in his own way of speaking.  It was a little unfortunate that because the chairman of the event didn’t guide the conversation more actively, all the time was gone before there had been any questions from the audience.

After more refreshment breaks and a little writing, we returned to the Festival Theatre for Scottish Ballet’s The Rite of Spring.  Taking the ideas of ritual, division and religious fundamentalism, new choreography has been created for three dancers on a sparse white stage with curved up walls confining the dance space to the centre of the empty stage.  I wasn’t sure I understood much of this, but, as I suspected, this morning some of the images are still in my mind’s eye.

In the first part, two brothers, dressed in long black skirts, fight and argue and appear to try to escape the confines of their environment.  The leaping and outstretched limbs of the dancers created big bold geometric shapes against the white background.  It is only when the woman, Faith, appears, a sort of flitting Tinkerbell in brilliant white, that you see that the stage isn’t that white after all.  The brothers fight over Faith.

In the second half, one man is a prisoner of the other.  Now one is dressed only in his underwear and the other in army fatigues and black boots; while faith waves seductively from the sidelines.  There is a great deal of mimed brutality and violence, including a black bag over the head of the prisoner.  There was something about this section that I found disturbing, making me feel voyeuristic and uncomfortable; but it did accentuate the violence inherent in the music.

I’ll be back on the Fringe tomorrow…..

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  1. Speaking as a long-term ballet fan, I think that appreciation of the sinews, strength and effort is definitely part of the experience – add the beauty and you’re good to go!

    • Thanks Fran. Having seen the acrobats last night, I can see that there is added artistry to the ballet, but I still have some difficulty suspending my disbelief with the play acting, but I am going to persist!


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