|Photo: Eoin Carey|
The opening sequence reveals lifelike and life-sized portraits of Vietnamese soldiers in the half-light. As the lights come up, these three dimensional-looking figures are revealed as nothing more than cardboard cut-outs, supported by the female ‘dancers’ who are impenetrable in their blank yet forceful faces. It is at this point that the breathtaking simplicity of this production is revealed.
The performers are women who, during the war, sang for North Vietnamese soldiers at the front and it is their singing that asks the questions choreographer Ea Sola seeks to pose through Drought and Rain – how do our individual and shared memories process such significant cultural events and what - through time, space and subsequent generations - is the true human cost of war?
What movement there is during the piece is strong, purposeful and delivered with great meaning – a photograph thrust forwards, a heart beating quickly at the sound of gunfire and the dramatic lurching backwards as the fighting takes place around them. Most memorable of all, perhaps, is the letting down of long, dark hair in perfect unison which waves and shakes wildly as the women allow themselves to become consumed by their shared grief.
But it is the bravery with which the production delivers stillness that brings the most visually arresting moments, as though the production is clicking a camera to store images in your brain. The relentless, almost combative stares of the women transform suddenly into the toothy, wide perma-grins they wore to sing to their soldiers and, as movement ceases completely and they stare out into the auditorium, it feels unsettlingly like you are being challenged to a smiling competition you can never win.
While these powerful images are often captivating, the questions they are asking are meditated upon rather than answered. There is no attempt display narrative or linear development and to seek these things would risk rendering the production frustrating rather than strangely soothing.
If Ea Sola’s purpose with Drought and Rain was to create a shared cultural memory in her audience then many of the sequences in the piece are powerful enough to have done so. There is no dancing, it is true, but the movements are delivered with a touching simplicity that is hard to resist.
Drought and Rain
Thursday 1 – Saturday 3 September, 8pm
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Book now at eif.co.uk/drought
The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.