The Edinburgh Festival, Jubilee Year

By Green, Laurence | Contemporary Review, October 1996 | Go to article overview

The Edinburgh Festival, Jubilee Year

Green, Laurence, Contemporary Review

Actors with painted faces perform Shakespearean soliloquies in the streets, fire eaters stage dangerous stunts, acrobats and jugglers mingle with passers-by and the sound of bagpipes fills the air and rises above the noise of cars and pedestrians. This can only mean one thing - the Edinburgh International Festival is in full swing. Nowhere else is a festival so all-pervading that it seems to take over the whole life of the city. The 1996 event, which marked former Welsh National Opera director, Brian McMaster's fifth year in the hot seat, was a particular cause for celebration as it was the fiftieth anniversary of what has now become the largest arts festival in the world, attracting a truly diverse mix of music, dance and drama. The unique position the festival has gained in the cultural calendar was reflected in the fact that 1996 saw a record year for corporate sponsorship and donations with over [pounds]1.25 million secured, a rise of almost 25 per cent on the previous year.

Certainly the most eagerly awaited event was the return after 40 years of the Martha Graham Dance Company. For many, Martha Graham, who died in 1991 at the age of 96, is contemporary dance - she created a completely new art form and influenced generations of dancers. 'I think the reason dance has held such an ageless magic for the world is that it has been a symbol of the performance of living,' she said. Radical Graham (Playhouse Theatre), as the programme was called, focuses on her early work, created in the 20s, 30s and 40s. The evening included Serenata Morisca, a short but lively Spanish-style dance performed by Rika Okamoto, El Penitente, after a sect of the American Southwest which believes in purification from sin through penance, with the dance presented as a story told after the old mystery plays in which the sinner receives flagellation as punishment, and Errand into the Maze, which, taking as its inspiration the myth of Ariadne and the Minotaurs, is seen as a symbol of the conquering of fear.

But the most memorable items on the programme were Lamentation, in which the dancer (Katherine Crockett), shrouded in tight blue fabric, appears rooted to the spot and when Zoltan Kadaly's Klavierstucke, opus 3, number 1 mournfully rises, her body twists, turns and strains, but she cannot shake off the grief that consumes her, and, by contrast, the joy of Diversion of Angels, with music by Norman Dello Joio, which takes place in the imaginary garden love creates for itself, with the couple in white representing mature love in perfect balance, red, erotic love, and yellow adolescent love, and the powerful Sketches from Chronicle, which, by evoking war's images, sets forth the fateful prelude to conflict and portrays the devastation of spirit it leaves in its wake and suggests an answer. The dancers performed with athleticism and ease, conveying the emotion and feeling inherent in all the works.

An altogether different type of dance programme was presented by festival favourites Mark Morris, returning for the fifth consecutive year. The mixed bill of the Mark Morris Dance Group (Edinburgh Festival Theatre) included the world premiere of a commissioned work, I Don't Want to Love, choreographed to seven enchanting Monteverdi madrigals performed by Concerto Italiano, with the white clad dancers flying, fluttering and skipping over the stage and expressing in movement the madrigals' treatment of love rejected and unavailing. But the evening began with Ten Suggestions, a witty solo piece performed to Tcherepnin's Bagatelles, opus 5 by Morris attired in pink satin pyjamas in which he offers dance-snapshots of a child playing alone with a ribbon and skipping through a hoop. This was followed by World Power, inspired by Mark Twain's denunciation of America's colonising of the Pacific, danced to the sound of a Javanese gamelan, harp and trumpet, with the intricate movements of body, arms and legs conjuring up images of the daily drudgery of the peasants working in the paddy fields, turning into shouts of self-validation from the oppressed.

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