31 August, 2011

Edinburgh International Festival Fringe Prize 2011: The TEAM

Photo: Rachel Chavkin
By Emma Caldwell

The Edinburgh International Festival Fringe Prize is awarded each year to a Fringe artist, or company, who has the potential to develop their work and transfer it to the International Festival’s stage. The prize promotes excellence in the arts and provides an opportunity for up-and-coming artists to develop and devise new ideas. It also helps strengthen links between the Festival and the Fringe, recognising the wealth of talent performing in Edinburgh every year. The winner is selected by Festival Director Jonathan Mills on the recommendations of a panel of expert judges, all of whom work in the arts.

This year the prize has been awarded to The TEAM (Theatre of the Emerging American Moment) for their production Mission Drift. The New York-based company first decided to come to Edinburgh in 2005 after attending the Edinburgh Fringe Road Show in New York City which convinced Artistic Director Rachel Chavkin Edinburgh was a great place to showcase work and get reviews. They took a gamble and brought over Give Up! Start Over!  a solo performance about reality television, Richard Nixon and the search for authenticity in America. Luckily the gamble paid off - the company had an incredibly successful run at C Venues and won a Scotsman Fringe First Award.

Following the success of their Fringe debut, The TEAM returned in 2006 with Particularly in the Heartland, another work exploring and celebrating the experience of living in America. This piece was set in Kansas, America’s heartland, and featured a series of bizarre and inventive characters - an alien in possession of the body of a dead pregnant teenage girl, a business woman named Dorothy whose plane has crashed in the cornfields, and the ghost of 1968 democratic presidential hopeful and liberal icon Robert F. Kennedy. In another year of critical acclaim, the company was awarded its second Fringe First.

Returning in 2008 with Architecting, the company told the story of the American South, taking the audience on a multi-media road trip through civil war, and questioning whether the country would ever recover from slavery. Playing to sell-out audiences at the Traverse Theatre and receiving numerous five star reviews, it was no surprise when this production won the TEAM their third Fringe First award.

Mission Drift is the company’s most ambitious project to date. The production held its world premiere at the Traverse Theatre earlier this month following development work at the Almeida in London. The piece is an exploration of capitalism, told through atomic blasts, lizard ballet and music that fuses Vegas glitz with Western ballads and Southern Blues. It follows the story of an immortal Dutch couple setting out west from Amsterdam to New Amsterdam to financially devastated modern-day Las Vegas. Focusing on the meaning and shape of American Capitalism, it takes the audience on a picaresque and avant-garde journey through the quest for the American dream.

The production was well received by both audiences and critics. The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner praised the way the company “playfully dissected” the economics of modern America while The Telegraph declared it the best show they had seen at the Fringe. The Independent summed up the experience thus: “The TEAM specialise in total theatre... they also specialise in total entertainment”.

The TEAM were thrilled to be recognised by the International Festival with the Fringe Prize, and are delighted with the opportunities it provides to develop their work for new audiences. They will use the Prize to create a new project and are already brimming with ideas of what to do next. Look out for the TEAM at Festival 2012.

For more information about the Edinburgh International Festival Fringe prize visit eif.co.uk.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

30 August, 2011

Review: The Legendary Music of Rajasthan

Photo: Hema Narayanan
By Jane Compton

At The Legendary Music of Rajasthan, accomplished folk artists Lakha Khan, Kadar Khan and Bhanwari Devi gave the audience a rare chance to experience a live performance of the centuries-old indigenous musical heritage treasured by the desert communities of north-west India. Dressed in vibrantly coloured traditional clothes, they sat cross-legged on the stage, joined by a further four musicians who provided vocal and instrumental accompaniment.

The concert was held in the magnificent main hall of the National Museum of Scotland which re-opened in July following a £47.4 million, three year redevelopment. Lakha Khan began proceedings with lilting, soothing songs for voice and sarangi, a stringed instrument held against the chest and played with a bow. One of only three musicians from the Manganiyar community to have been awarded the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award from India’s National Academy of Music, Drama and the Arts, he is also a skilled luthier who handcrafts and fine tunes his own instruments.

Kadar Khan presented ancient pieces from the massive repertoire of the Sarangiya Langa community which he calls home. Taught the sarangi as a child, since 1982 he has performed throughout India and across the world. He was accompanied by Noore Khan on voice and sarangi and by Papamir on the dholak, a classical north Indian hand drum similar in timbre to the bongos. The inimitable sounds produced by the sarangi were expertly shaped into bold and evocative melodies that blended very effectively with the brisk and energetic percussive beats.

During short intermissions between performances, interesting contextual commentary was provided by Divya Bhatia, the Artistic Director of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation and the Rajasthan International Folk Festival. HRH Prince Charles is the international patron of the Foundation which works with musicians, dancers and other artists in Rajasthan, helping them to use their skills, traditions and knowledge to enhance their lives and promote understanding of their heritage.

Singer Bhanwari Devi and her sons Krishna Kumar and Indra Chand travelled outside India for the very first time to participate in the Festival and share the music of their Bhopa community with an international audience. Traditionally, the Bhopas are itinerant priest singers of the folk deities of 14th-century Rajasthan and they are invited to perform in villages, particularly during times of illness and adversity, as their presence is considered to be a blessing.

At these performances, historical poems are sung by the bhopa (husband) and bhopi (wife) in front of an intricate scroll called a phad, which features scenes from the deity’s life. After Bhanwari was widowed in 2004, her son Krishna, a singer and harmonium player, took over the role of the bhopa. Gifted with an exceptionally powerful and sonorous voice, Bhanwari’s duet with Krishna was one of the highlights of the evening.

For the last song, all seven musicians performed together in an excellent finale to a great night. Their appearance at Festival 2011 has been made possible with the support of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi which seeks to promote cultural exchange and understanding between India and the rest of the world.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call  0131 473 2000.

28 August, 2011

Review: Sriyah

Photo: Sonia Manchanda
By Mateusz Jażdżewski

I have to be honest; I am not an expert in Indian dance or culture so I can only judge it with my intuition and senses. Śriyah performed by The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble was a spell-binding, colourful show however I struggled at points to make out what it was all about.

The group from India seemed to have taken into consideration that European audiences are not used to their style. Each piece is introduced with a brief explanation of what is going to happen on stage, so the audience gets to know about the Indian traditions and types of classical dance demonstrated. One of the most distinctive dance forms is Odissi. Originating from the Eastern border of India, it was traditionally performed by young women in temples as an act of worship.

The Odissi repertoire consists of various pieces, all of which have a special importance. The movements comprising each piece centre on the Tribhangi stance, meaning independent movement of the head, chest and pelvis. The body is formed into an ‘S’ shape, which creates a sense of balance as the dance is performed. On stage, it looks like ancient temple sculptures have come to life.

Although during the performance the artists explained the different dance forms and the meaning of their movements, I didn’t fully appreciate the show. The dance, music and intimate lighting created an enjoyable spectacle, but it wasn’t sufficient enough to absorb me into their world.

Friday 26 – Monday 29 August
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Book tickets at eif.co.uk/sriyah.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

Review: Scottish Ballet

Photo: Andrew Ross
By Alice Longhurst

A flock of red costumed Scottish Ballet dancers frolic flat footed to the sublime strains of Mozart’s First Violin Concerto. This is Kings 2 Ends, a stunning new work by Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo, commissioned for the Edinburgh International Festival 2011. Employing unconventional movements which transcend classical restrictions and push the edges of their capabilities, Elo’s dancers engage in a physicality which seems both reassuringly organic and at times even absurd.

During lifts performers bobble their heads from side to side, and accurate group work sequences are broken by robotic chops and whole body undulations, lending the production originality and humour. The influence of Elo’s ice hockey background is obvious here in the speed at which dancers spin around the stage, twisting and gliding rather than using stiff en pointe pirouettes.

Although there is no clear narrative and the sparse costumes and set do not provide much visual information, the choreography and music speak for themselves, engaging the imagination so we form our own conclusions. This is aided by the striking choice of music, with Elo setting Mozart beside Steve Reich’s almost mathematical Double Sextet and using long punctuating silent sequences. The contrast between all three of these elements works well, giving an overall effect which is both exuberant and irreverent.

Balancing Elo’s contemporary work, the second part of the evening is graced by Kenneth MacMillan’s legendary Song of the Earth. The ballet is a physical setting of Mahler’s great song cycle Das Lied von der Erde and the staging is deliberately pared down to allow the dark power of the music to shine through. Dancers share the stage with mezzo soprano Katarina Karnéus and tenor Peter Webb who sing Mahler’s six songs taken from ancient Chinese poetry in the original German.

The poetry and choreography explore the eternal themes of love, death and loss, and this universality works well with both the Chinese motifs in Mahler’s music and the German language adaptations of poems from T’ang dynasty China. Physically, movements crackle with emotional energy, dominated by the ominous central trio - the man, woman and the ever present and benign Messenger of Death.

Although links between the two pieces are hard to spot, the intentionally bold contrasts between and within them are refreshing and feel original. Following on from Elo’s irreverent organic new work, MacMillan’s mighty Song of the Earth seems all the more resonant and poignant. Scottish Ballet’s performance is at once stunning and thought-provoking, proving the company’s ability to excel both in challenging contemporary works and classical masterpieces.

Scottish Ballet

Kings 2 Ends Jorma Elo
Song of the Earth Kenneth MacMillan

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Sian Edwards Conductor
Katarina Karnéus Mezzo soprano
Peter Wedd Tenor

Friday 26 – Sunday 28 August, 7.30pm
The Edinburgh Playhouse

Book tickets at eif.co.uk/scottishballet

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

27 August, 2011

Review: One Thousand and One Nights - Part One

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
By Jane Compton

One Thousand and One Nights, known as Alf Layla wa-Layla in Arabic, is currently playing to packed audiences in its European debut at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. This epic six hour, two part dramatisation adapted from ancient Arabic manuscripts differs from The Arabian Nights – an anodyne version created by western translators which removed adult themes and added new stories and characters including Aladdin and Sinbad.

After killing his adulterous wife, King Shahrayar decides the only way to prevent a spouse’s infidelity is to marry a virgin each night and then behead her the following morning. Horrified that so many young women are dying, the young Shahrazad bravely volunteers to wed the king believing she can convince him to stop these executions.

Her strategy is to narrate stories each night that end on a cliff-hanger, meaning that if her husband wants to know more he will have to let her live for one more day. It is these folk tales, gathered from India, Persia and the Arab Empire that are brought to life on stage, touching upon just about every aspect of human behaviour.

Characters become enraged with fits of jealousy, surrender to lust, cower in fear, writhe in agony, torture others and self-mutilate, but at the heart of these stories there are valuable lessons to be learned. For example to importance of forgiveness and the need to show kindness to those around you, or the tale of The Three Apples that shows it is unwise to act rashly on the basis of flimsy insubstantial evidence.

The supernatural is a recurring theme and the fact that beings from parallel realms can interact with humans is universally accepted. Spirits also share similarities with mankind for instance the Jinni in The Persian Prince who is married with children yet keeps a mortal mistress.

Gender relations are also explored as women speak candidly about their enjoyment sex with graphic on stage portrayals of intercourse, most notably an orgy scene. The story of The Porter and the Three Ladies also makes it clear that a woman can live contentedly without a man in patriarchal society and even earn great wealth through her own business ventures.

Throughout this production, audiences receive unique glimpses of Arab culture from a bygone age which differs greatly from contemporary western perceptions. Director Tim Supple’s cast of nineteen men and women are surely among the hardest working actors at The Edinburgh International Festival this year. Selected following a rigorous audition process held in locations across the Arabic-speaking world, the actors fully immerse themselves into each role they play over the course of three hours with dialogue moving effortlessly between Arabic, French and English.

One Thousand and One Nights

Part One
Tuesday 23, Thursday 25 and Tuesday 30 August, 7pm
Sunday 21, Saturday 27, Sunday 28 and Wednesday 31 August, Friday 2 and Saturday 3 September, 2pm

Part Two
Sunday 21, Wednesday 24, Friday 26, Saturday 27, Sunday 28 and Wednesday 31 August, Thursday 1, Friday 2 and Saturday 3 September, 7pm

See both performances in one day on Sunday 21, Saturday 27, Sunday 28 and Wednesday 31 August, and Friday 2 and Saturday 3 September.

Book for both parts on any day in the same transaction and receive 10% off each ticket.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.