Merchant City Festival

Merchant City Festival


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Mary Brennan

With a hop, skip, and a jump - it's playtime! And as we loll back in deck chairs, enjoying Stillmotion's dancers Penny Chivas, Melanie Forbes-Broomes and Scott Houston, in their natty tartan outfits (by Jennie Loof), the children's game of hopscotch becomes a clever choreography of leaps, bounds, balances and brinkmanship.

But there's more to Brian Hartley's Scotch Hoppers than a frisky dance on a specially laid out playground. These live performances are a reminder of the fun that can be had from simple, some might say old-fashioned, games.

That fun really comes into its own when onlookers of all ages are invited onto the site in Parnie Street. Nimble young feet soon have the merry measure of joining up the dots painted on the ground, or of using the round wooden "slices" as stepping stones to the other toys that subtly encourage little ones to develop skills and co-ordination through play.

It's one of those seemingly simple family-friendly attractions where a huge amount of thought has gone into the props, the movement, and the soundscore. No tartan need be worn. It runs until Sunday, with live shows at the weekend.

Sadly, some of the other highlights staged by Surge within the festival have ended their run. Those who ventured into the Ramshorn Graveyard last Saturday were rewarded by the phantasmagorical spectacle of Polleniser where a chivvying martinet (Alex Rigg) released a clutch of exquisitely grotesque "spores" in fabulously intricate costumes - their aim to spread the much-needed pollen of imagination among us.

Add a dub band in the garb of mediaeval troubadours, a wandering cellist - half-man, half-plant - who wheedled strange noises from his own throat, and the graveyard was suddenly seeded with the energies of febrile creativity and regeneration.

Elsewhere, it was possible to get swallowed by the big metal Whale operated by Talking Birds. Inside was a miniature theatre and a brief encounter with lovelorn submariner Jonah, whose pleading letter of regrets folded into the shape of a little whale.

Another metal structure, an open-work cube of scaffolding poles, kept Motionhouse's dancers Captive amid the crowds in Brunswick Street. Two men and two women went full pelt under a blazing sun, scaling the walls, clashing with the other inmates, exploding into rages, subsiding into desperate hugs. Was it a prison? A zoo? A mindset? All bets were on, in a piece of emotionally charged dance theatre as blisteringly intense as the sun overhead.