Manipulate Festival Part 2 – Summerhall

Shadowbird (★★★★)

Shadowbird starts as a quaint production but grows into something so much more. A fisherman, sculpted wonderfully by Mary and David Grieve, begins his story in the way all good stories are told… as he finishes off a pint. Soon, we’re thrown into a world of epic adventure and charming design. 

The frame through which performers convey their puppets’ motion begins to unfold as oceans, mountains and moons open up to illustrate the story of the fisherman in his youth. Now a young man, moving a heavy pod which serves both as home and transport, the fisherman takes refuge by the mountainside, awe-struck by the sea-life, the plants and one peculiar shadow creature which seems to emerge from a single blackbird.

Though it’s a story told primarily through puppetry, light has a tremendous impact on the effectiveness of the narrative. Shadowbird is inspired by Tom Waits’ song Fish and Bird, and its playfulness with shadow accentuates the songs’ subject of unavailable love, longing and melancholy. It’s a prime example of rod-puppetry and ability to convey an entire story, from birth to fruition without dialogue. 

Sketches (★★★★)

Flowing through the crowd, the trio of dancers at the heart of Sketches demonstrate the sublime craft of conceptual movement theatre.

A gathering of string musicians sway back and forth across the hall, never too far away from the dancers, providing an elegant backdrop befitting each of the movement pieces. Reacting to the musical arrangement around them, the performers deliver a tight, thoroughly thought-out series of movements, taking the audience on as much of a trip as the dancers themselves.  Movements to Bach’s Violin Concerto in A Minor are accompanied by original compositions and interjections from DJ Mariam Rezaei.

Sketches is executed with tremendous skill, but there are a couple of moments that feel ever-so-slightly slightly detached from the fluidity of the choreography. The decision to have dancers moving around and through the audience is immersive but has drawbacks – particularly for those less able to stand or wander for the full forty minutes.

Choreographer and dancer Katie Armstrong has created a beautiful whirlwind with Sketches. The emotion wrought on the dancers’ faces adds another layer to Sketches, and is something not always seen in movement pieces. The brief vignettes of choreographed movement – comprised of circling patterns, interlocking movements and personal moments between the dancers – are full of humour and intimacy. 

Canto X

Despite its position in Manipulate as a work-in-progress piece, Canto X exhibits a grand sense of purpose, haunting lyricism and a keen understanding of physical communication.

In part an examination of Dante’s relationship with his inner-self and physical form, the production echoes the connections between the three ‘selves’; our heart, our spirit and our ‘husk’, the physical form we inhabit. 

We begin as Dante descends through the circles of hell, struggling internally with the ideas of mortality,  religion and free will. Its a semi-battle between logic and belief, with the production’s over-arching vocals and minor costume effects chanelling this conflict.

Canto X is a tightly compact show, with tremendous promise. Some scenes designed to be more lingering and meditative are pushed back to back with other volatile episodes, with a slightly jarring effect. As a work-in-progress though, Canto X vastly exceeds expectations.

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