Festival Dance


Church Hill Theatre. Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

four stars

Chairs - some small, some very tiny, all bright white - are scattered across the stage, as if determined to get in everyone’s way. Some of the teensiest chairs are being used in a game of stack-’em-up being played - with much giggling - by two young children. It’s a larky, light-hearted opening to what is, intrinsically, a thought-provoking and profound piece by choreographer Hélène Blackburn and her Montreal-based company, Cas Public. At the heart of Blackburn’s foray into how we perceive, interpret and define our world - using our senses as mapping devices - is one of her dancers, Cal Glover who is hearing-impaired. When Glover removes his hearing aids, openly placing them on a nearby chair, his engagement with the world immediately changes: he enters into a realm of silence even as he continues to dance with a thrillingly pliant, expressive grace. Without that gesture of removing those hearing aids, would we know he was deaf?

For Blackburn, that possibility is an invitation to explore how we respond to external ‘triggers’ - not just sounds, but sight and touch. This is a vast and complex canvas, and the 7+ age group watching this family show probably won’t get every reference woven into the dance, or the intervening video showing a young deaf lad wrangling with being ‘different’. However Blackburn’s decision not to patronise younger audiences offers everyone an hour of wonderfully energised dance where elements of sign language are deftly incorporated into the choreography and balletic movements - some done on pointe - marry up with contemporary gambits, all executed with blithe panache by the three men and two women who - when you add in the four young ‘assistants’ - make up 9. The title also nods towards the Beethoven symphony - composed when he was deaf - and by the time Ode to Joy is going full blast, we’ve watched Glover and his fellow dancers celebrate individuality with wit, honesty and a spirit of inclusive sharing.