With major companies largely on summer vacation, the Edinburgh International Festival struggles to schedule a high level of dance (although, that said, I have memories of being whisked away in shorts to the 1967 festival and to have seen the New York City Ballet during its glorious first). The scarcity tends to be masked by falling back on what used to be called the “ethnic” product and this specifically French phenomenon, the multimedia event between circus, mime, video and spoken text, generally sewn with a thread of a theme overall thrown in.
This year it’s the turn of something called Bedroom, presented by La Compagnie du Hanneton, whose chef and bottle washer is James Thierrée, a former member of the charming Cirque Imaginaire. But Bedroom is not fancifully charming: indeed, it strikes me as nothing more than a maddening, tedious, and pretentious ego-trip, stretching uninterruptedly over two excruciatingly long hours.
Thierrée is a kind of clown, but a philosopher. Growling spasmodically and moonwalking, he spouts a rambling macaronic mad scientist patter loosely tied to the semantics of walls and ceilings, the spaces we inhabit and the spaces that contain or imprison us. Around him, elements of a room are collapsed and reconfigured, while ten supporting performers sing fragments of popular songs, blow or strum on musical instruments and prance like puppets. It is Dadaist parody, without form, style or purpose; it’s also miserably complacent. Towards the end, Thierrée confesses to the audience: “I owe you an explanation. But there is no explanation. And no apologies either.
For those in the mood for something more substantial, Akram Khan arrives in the final week of the festival with his reimagining of The jungle Book; However, I was overwhelmed by the slimmer choices of “Refuge,” a series of short, room-sized events focused on “the movement of people around the world.” I have no desire to be mean for free to people who have probably suffered terribly, but alas, Farah Saleh and Oguz Kaplangi A little trip, “a choreographed musical journey celebrating diversity”, was so meaningless in its conception and so amateurish in its execution that it really had no place in a major festival. Mainly horizontal contortions of a kind of gymnastics I try with my personal trainer, it left many questions unanswered like why did they keep hitting each other with black plastic bags?
And so with relief, let me turn to Scottish Ballet’s fresh and funky version Coppelia. With its opéra-comique staging, it’s a frolic which, in its traditional Saint-Leonese form, can seem grating and sparkling despite the effervescence of Delibes’ bewitching score. Yet by adapting the original clockwork doll script to diabolical Silicon Valley ambitions, Morgann Runacre-Temple and Jess Wright have created something with dramatic weight and conviction.
Dotty Dr. Coppelius is transformed into a sinister Steve Jobs figure and the dashing Swanhilda and her swain Franz become investigative reporters reporting on the launch of his latest robotic clone, which he considers better than the real thing. Swanhilda’s timely intervention confronts him with the error of his views, his high-tech punishment matches his crime, and the good old triumph of true love.
Delibes’ music is mixed and synthesized (in the manner of what Akram Khan did with Adolphe Adam’s score for Gisele), a few scenes of spoken dialogue that push the plot forward are played with overly expressive gestures (rather like Crystal Pite), and there’s extensive use of video and CGI enhancing an ingeniously flexible set to the walls. whites designed and lit by Bengt Gomer.
Yes, it’s all super trendy and devoid of anything resembling aesthetic complexity or emotional subtlety, but because it’s so well wrapped and perfectly danced by a well-rehearsed ensemble, with lively performances by Constance Devernay-Laurence (Swanhilda) and Bruno Micchiardi (Coppelius), he succeeded in the theatrical moment. A few scenes could have been cut – full stop, time to move on – but judging by the captivated attention and ecstatic response from the audience, Scottish Ballet has success on its hands .