Manipulate 2020


Summerhall, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

four stars

Year on year, Manipulate programmes visual theatre that surprises you into thinking twice (at least) about how you view the world. Ersatz, by Collectif Aïe Aïe Aïe (France) is a superbly nuanced example of this. A man, Julien Mellano, sits alone at a table made of light boxes. There are various noises in the air: drummings, tappings, beepings - an unrelenting soundscape in the surrounding darkness, and yet he seems totally unperturbed. Instead, he takes what’s to hand - some cut-out shapes - and jigsaws them together into a black ‘head’ that give him a featurless robotic appearance. This is the beginning of Mellano’s cunning evocation of a world where technology kidnaps him - and mankind - into realms of virtual reality where every new scenario seems to morph into a shoot-em-up arcade game. There’s no screened projection of what he sees, but the meshing of sound effects, his body language - hand gestures especially - takes us inside what he’s experiencing. A hugely sophisticated reflection on the potential, dehumanising fall-out of our new machine age unfolds in an astute use of simple objects, some origami, sly humour and Mellano’s bravura ability to make us see what isn’t there...yet.

Change and decay, bizarre beauty and the upheaving energies of misrule erupt into an exhilarating pageant of music and movement in Transfigured, the latest mythic excursion from Oceanallover (Scotland). The mood is one of random encounters, with Alex Rigg and his troupe of fabulously-costumed hoydens and swaggerers taking on the characteristics of an arcane pack of cards. Pick a card! Chance and destiny intermingle in ensemble dances - sinuous, writhing, abandoned, strange - and songs where the women open their throats with soaring visceral effect and the choral harmonies are sometimes sweet, sometimes in clashing discord with the live brass. The lyrics carry emblematic layers - akin to poetic tarot images - heightening the sense that we’ve stumbled into an enchantment of prophecies, a mirage of past and future combined. Hurrah!