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Dance Solos and Duets

MATTHEW HAWKINS samples the work on offer in an economically trimmed-down Dancebase and puts movement into words

DANCE BASE is a purpose-built facility that runs year-round. Home to a vibrant array of activity, and formerly hosting a great crush of Edinburgh Festival Fringe events, the venue now vaults a chasm of post-Covid uncertainty with the specifics of its 2023 programme, as co-curated (for the first time) with the Assembly franchise. 

We are in something of an edit. 

I took a look at a sequence of four works, taking the form of duets and solos, in the single available performing space, other vast studios on the premises are tabled-up and serving as industry hubs. 

If there’s a league where fine athletic movers can devise and tour their work with credibility amid counterpart high-achievers, then contest-winners Indra Dance Company are definitely in that league. 

Daniel Navarro Laurenco is great to watch, moving as desired, in an essential continuity whereas Anna Boris Pico is gifted with a way of breaking into arresting dynamic contrasts. As their show Exhale (★★★) unfolded each move confirmed credentials and clearly they got the memo to bring projections, a roll of astroturf and a fabulous electric guitarist (Alex Paton). 

A welcome shift from auto-solo confrontation to the interpretation of shared duet ideas brought a sigh of relief. I gradually stopped thinking about how heavily mentored, curated and filtered this scene can be (with its way of warping new work into palatable forms) and felt that Exhale is probably about the poignancy of commitment. 

In recent memory the act of making and performing in this realm looked set to vanish. Laurenco and Pico’s physical tenacity testifies to their ambition and a subtle gratitude for the place they hold.

There is stark contrast between the floundering fictional person outlined in Pat Kinevane’s King (★★★★) for Fishamble – the New Play Company, and the precise playing of Kinevane himself. I felt trust in the embrace of his expert timing. 

His is a riveting switch through tango fragments and wide vocal ranges, all amid a rococo juggle of purple props and sculptural light. 

There’s a sense of the authenticity of a real character, living and breathing against tangible odds, deservedly framed in suitable elaboration. 

At the heart of this work is a historic notion of vulnerability. A mature individual’s fear of a savaging may be misplaced but is none the less real. Perhaps even ace performers hold this fear and hence take steps to install a sturdy carapace of finesse. Security is key. 

In the rendition of King, we enthrone one of many burnished returns of this artist to these Grassmarket premises, where a dependable platform is surely in the offing. 

The larger housing here, its white walls and historic stone cladding, currently backs enlarged photographs, prose pieces and video that document contemporary dance activity in Ukraine, asking the question What’s it like to dance in a war zone? (★★★★★)

Continuity is suddenly fugitive and yet many are adapting and evolving in their practice. A felt need for the balm of movement and its concentration apparently enhances lives in many cases – even fostering the sharing of movement skills and resilience amid military resistance. 

Photographer Maria Falconer rises to the occasion with images that both honour dancing and indicate an awesome context of desolate urban meadow, wrecked car dumps and rubble-strewn stairwells.

It could be a challenge to invest in the importance of the domestic interplay between the protagonists of Duo: Sun Chung-Hsueh and Hsia Ling of Acro Physical Theatre, Taiwan (★★★). Winning or losing a game of cards surely scarcely matters nor, I imagine, would laundry disagreements stack up an existential crisis. There must be something more. 

I perceive how our couple possess a fine strong table, tidy furniture, tasteful vintage clothing and masses of wallpaper – this last in the form of a soundtrack. I also know that in reality Acro Physical Theatre are experts whose compelling professional dynamic pulses with trust and studied risk. 

We look at choreographed sequences of mercurial spatial incursions, erupting via a phenomenally precise mustering of momentary energies. A naive narrative overlay might speak of a lack of confidence in the power of pure physical content here. Perhaps too, the audience’s perceptive levels are not thought by this team to be especially sophisticated. 

That said, the gist of DUO was well carried. Fans were evident. The performers took an ovation then went straight to the foyer for ebullient debrief and autographs.

A 21:30 “graveyard” shift is inhabited by Stone-Face-Book (★★★★★), given by Granhoj Dans (Denmark). Here was my must-see moment of exposed poetry in motion. 

Performer Mikolaj Karczewski frets, sweats, fidgets, endures and endears through an edgy progression devised by Palle Granoj. Roof-masking is pulled back to expose the studio’s glass ceiling to give us a view of our Castle Rock, the cloudy night, sky and random aviation. Karczewski addresses us directly, bucks between geological fact and fantasy and launches into abundant idiosyncratic dancing. He’s a joy. He’s going the extra mile. 

He’s generous (or is it clumsy?) with heartfelt communication and inadvertent information. 

This show premiered in this place one year ago. 

I’m happy that Dance Base is intact and is functioning well as a showcase for work of accredited standard. It can also host something somewhat visionary. Stone-Face-Book embodies the breaking of boundaries and the heart leaps.

Exhale runs until August 13; King runs until August 27; Maria Falconer runs until August 26 (free admission); Duo runs until August 27; Stone-Face-Book runs until August 13; info:


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