Monday, 7 August 2017

Together Alone – Dance Base, Edinburgh

[seen 06/08/17]

Together Alone is probably impossible to describe usefully. Look at the photo. It’s basically that. But moving around. To (various) Music. For 45 minutes. I thought it was (mostly) brilliant Chen-Wei Lee and Zoltán Vakulya – naked throughout – are in incredible physical condition, and make nearly an hour of intense physical exercise look almost effortless.

The game in this piece is that for the entire duration, some part or other of Lee and Vakulya’s bodies must be touching. There is obvious stuff: hand-holding, swinging each other round, clambering over each other, etc. But there is also stranger contact; heads pressed lightly against shoulders, shoulders pressed into arms, hips against hips.

The musical accompaniment varies, from modernist growls and crackles through to a fully-fledged jazz-dance complete with something like the Charleston. Re: the nudity – vainly trying to find the name of the jazz song mentioned above, I came across this excerpt from an interview with the performers which puts exactly what I thought much more precisely than I’d have managed. “We talked about what we should wear and tried various things. We have this floor-based part we call “Rock.” It’s very slow and difficult, like we’re tangling, wrapped together as tight as possible. You see a lot of muscle tension, how we’re using force to carry each other, but we found that even if we covered ourselves with just thin fabric the dance lost that strength. You just didn’t see it.

I can’t imagine anyone reading this review being overly bothered by nudity anyway, but I will add that it’s fascinating, in the context of a theatre culture in which nudity still often feels difficult, awkward or exploitative, it was a joy to see something where simply not having any clothes on felt like nothing except a practical and aesthetic decision. And also – given that this practicality was manifestly the case – how an entire audience will immediately accept this.

Criticisms: I suppose I worried that some of the music balanced a bit on the knife-edge between being quite good, and “a bit too new-age relaxation tape”. But it never actually tipped over. And maybe other people are ok with new age relaxation tapes anyway.

In terms of “message” or “meaning,” I don’t think I came away with *much*, although there was something palpable about two dancers from such totally different backgrounds and (I presume) dance/training cultures making work together, especially such a) successful, and b) contemporary work together. But it didn’t feel like this was a piece that functioned in that way. I mean, what “meaning” do you get from (wordless) Bach? Sometimes formal experimentation and inexplicable beauty are easily more than enough. Warmly recommended.

Together Alone | Zoltán Vakulya, Chen-Wei Lee | 4 – 27 Aug | 21.45 | 45 mins | £12 (£10 conc)

Not Mondays or Thursdays

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