Monday, August 16, 2010

Edinburgh International Festival - Tempest: Without a Body

Tempest: Without a Body made a very strong artistic statement. It just wasn’t anything remotely close to the one I was expecting.

It was dark and harsh, the movements sharp and contained. The performers moved with quickly shuffling feet as though their ankles were bound. A witch-like woman, stooped and crouched and rigid, with stubs sprouting from her back where wings had been broken or cut away, took slow, painful steps across the stage, turned to the audience and let out a sound somewhere between a scream and a wail, again and again.

There was no music, but a sombre soundscape with deep, vibrating base, continuous tone, and clashes and chirps of sound that created a constant tension.

The lighting made an equally strong statement. With almost no front light at all, the performers were thrown into stark silhouette, half in shadow half in light. What light was there was cold and harsh.

The set was simple; a single giant monolith, deeply textured in the harsh light, suspended about four feet above the stage. There was also projection, images of wrinkled, aged faces on the back wall.

It being, supposedly, a dance piece, I was expecting bigger and more fluid movement. It is also unfortunate that I had been up since five in the morning (to start work at six) and was starting to doze in the darkness. Had I been more awake going in, I think, despite my expectations, I would have found it interesting.

It was reminding me a lot of the butoh that I saw in Vienna, which is a kind of modern Japanese dance that is also very slow and very deliberate. I had the worst hangover of my life that day (courtesy of a friend’s birthday party and an abundance of 1 euro tequila shots), but I had sworn up and down I would go with another friend to the dance festival. Her choice was the butoh. I was dreading it a little, but it turned out to be perfect. The men wore cream-coloured fabrics, the lights were gentle, as was the music. And the movement was slow, but hypnotic. I found it very peaceful, almost like guided mediation.

Tempest was anything but peaceful, and while I’m sad that I did nod off occasionally, I also can’t say that I enjoyed it, exactly. A strong statement, but not for me.

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