Edinburgh Festival


BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

four stars

WHETHER or not his successor, Nicola Benedetti, chooses to continue them, the spectacular free opening event will be remembered as one of the key innovations of Fergus Linehan’s tenure as director of the Edinburgh International Festival.

If the recent move into sports stadiums has diminished their impact on the city, this year’s offering was as thoroughly imaginatively conceived as the best of them, so it was a shame that the take-up of the free tickets left a good number of empty seats in the specially configured auditorium within the home of Scottish rugby.

An anthropologist might quibble over parallels drawn between indigenous Australian culture and the experience of Gaels in Scotland, but the sonic tapestry woven by composers Ekrem Eli Phoenix and Aidan O’Rourke for the musical forces was wonderfully varied and beautifully balanced. The biggest part of that was the National Youth Choir of Scotland, proving at yet another Festival that these young voices are our most adaptable and dependable group of singers. The solo voice of Kathleen MacInnes was part of a group of Scots traditional musicians directed from the fiddle by O’Rourke, and including a memorable duet between piper Brighde Chaimbeul and the sound of the Australian yidaki (didgeridoo).

From Edinburgh Makar Hannah Lavery’s opening poem - which referenced the very first of these events in celebrating the work of geologist Thomas Hutton - to a link with the venue in a version of the All Blacks’ haka near the end, the show was always worth listening to, but the words and music ultimately played second fiddle to the human spectacle on stage, and that was all from Australia.

First Nations dance group Djuki Mala and - especially - the massed acrobatics of Darcy Grant’s Gravity & Other Myths company made explicit the shared humanity that was the message of MACRO in some breathtaking and brave ensemble shapes on stage. This was geology and maths portrayed by athletic bodies, and then later the double helix of DNA illustrated through choreographic chemistry. What we witnessed was nothing less than molecular biology made up in mobile pyramids and tottering towers of people.

It was great to watch as the principal ingredient of this spectacle, but it will surely have even more impact in Edinburgh Playhouse when Gravity & Other Myths perform their own show, The Pulse, on Monday and Tuesday.