It's all very breezy and light-hearted, with front-of-house staff dolled up as natty cabin crew and the destination board – OK, the programme – looking impressively international. There's humour on-stage as well, but this first tranche of performances majors on dance pieces where powerful choreography carries interesting ideas, challenges perceptions, or reflects on the shifts and outcomes of emotional states.
Paola Bianchi's fascinating solo, Duplica, does all of this. Common sense says this is an expressive dancer using various carefully positioned light sources to send shadows on to a semi-opaque black scrim. We know this because Bianchi begins her piece front of curtain, in full view – and we can see the control she has over her long, elegantly elastic limbs. But when she goes over, to the "other side", common sense is soon in freefall. Her shadow becomes a thing apart. Shape-shifting, looming large and distorting into forms that nudge us towards childhood's bedtime fears or primitive superstitions.
Is this perhaps her soul? A manifestation of threatening, possessive evil? An exhalation, even a purification, of her innermost corrupted self? Who, or what, is in charge within this duality?
Even if you can rein back your own instinctive imaginings and concentrate your focus on the craft and technique that power this piece, there still remains the intellectual pursuit of why we assign such mythic meanings to those opposite forces of light and shadow.
The Woman who wants to be funny/A Corpo Libero
If Christine Devaney and Silvia Gribaudi leave us laughing, their solos are nonetheless anchored in gritty little truths about coping mechanisms. Devaney, joined on stage by musician Luke Sutherland, is The Woman Who Wants to be Funny. Personal anecdotes about times past and her much-loved family are skilfully, merrily, confided but they actually point the way to a wistful, yearning feeling that cannot be rubbed out by delivering funny punchlines. That feeling surfaces in Devaney's dance, where her body speaks of what it remembers of childhood and of people no longer within her adult reach.
Sutherland, meanwhile, is spinning loops of thrillingly ethereal sounds that swirl around the space like projected echoes of Devaney's emotions. The ache at the heart of this piece is familiar to us, whatever name we put on the loss that colours it. But Devaney and Sutherland coax us to laughter through tears – have a hankie handy: the very gentleness and sincerity of the piece touch home, and prove hugely affecting.
There really couldn't be a better follow-on to this than Silvia Gribaudi's solo A Corpo Libero. Gribaudi is endowed with generous curves, a piquant sense of humour, great comic timing and an adorable willingness to throw caution (and the teensy, stretchy frock that causes her so much embarrassment) to the wind. As she lets those curves revel in wibbly-bouncy freedom, Gribaudi lands a whammy of a blow against fashionable body fascism by flying a fleshy flag for loving the skin you're in. Fabulous. A total tonic.
God (Grumpy Old Dancers) HHH
A Beautiful Hell HHHH
Those Grumpy Old Dancers, Andy Howitt and Alan Greig, are in pretty good shape considering ... considering they spend a lot of energy moaning and carping. The text still isn't as sharp, or as entertaining, as the dancing, which gives the lie to their complaining by being very nifty indeed.
Edge FWD's A Beautiful Hell, choreographed by Gary Clarke, is a pungent reminder that it's not easy being young and male when you don't fit in with your peers. It's dedicated to the memory of Nigel Charnock. He certainly would love the spunky, macho struttings of lads in pyjama bottoms and he would appreciate the vulnerabilities and uncertainties shown by the solitary Joe searching for his sexual identity and the confidence to own it.
Yes, the full-on energy is crowd-pleasing, but the choreography has bite and depth. And the dancing just crackles with class and conviction.
Suite Hope HHHH
Lots of political and social undercurrents ripple through Chiara Frigo's Suite Hope, with our human condition of being temporary strikingly emphasised by the presence of little, fragile, paper figures. Frigo's well-structured choreography for two dancers, herself and Maru Rivas Medina, shifts the dynamic between the rise and fall of hope/no hope with details, like printed T-shirts, touching on the iconography different generations latch on to to express their ideals. What really grabs the attention is the attack within the movement, the wrenching energy that floods through the solos and the double-work. Like Bianchi and Gribaudi, Frigo is doing her native Italy proud at the Fringe.
Time Dropper and Driftwood HHHH
You can read all manner of sub-texts into the solos performed in a double bill by Jose Agudo and Luke Murphy. Agudo's elements of Kathak in a superbly controlled, varied movement vocabulary are imaginatively used, Luke Murphy's Driftwood sees a groovy cool dude forced into taking new steps in the wake of a disaster – which Murphy does with tellingly intense physicality.
Canada's Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg doesn't stint the in-yer-face physicality, or the macho (yes, macho) swaggering in Banger as she assumes the personna of a nerdy teenage boy, a loner obsessed with heavy-metal music and the desert campaigns of the Second World War. She does different voices for the various characters, acts out his wannabe fantasies and hints at issues of gender-archetypes and social biases. It's all too much, and yet not enough to engage us beyond an acknowledgement of performance skills in need of a dramaturg.
All shows run until August 12 at Dance Base.
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