Afew minutes into a performance by Catalan company Gelabert Azzopardi, I was wishing that dancer-choreographer Cesc Gelabert would stop hogging the limelight. Now in his fifties, Gelabert is a performer of limited presence and technique. Yet we see much, much more of him than of his dancers.
Gelabert Azzopardi, appearing at the Festival Theatre as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, was founded by Cesc Gelabert and Lydia Azzopardi in 1985. Gelabert choreographs; Azzopardi co-directs and designs the company's costumes.
The new work Sense Fi starts with dim light and a clattering score by Pascal Comelade. Azzopardi moves slowly about the stage, dipping and swaying. Behind him, a second dancer mirrors him, only just visible. Behind archways in the backdrop, a woman passes in and out of sight. Once the lights come up, the atmosphere fades. You can see Gelabert's lifted shoulders and blank phrasing, his lack of energy compared to the rest of his company. The gap is hard to miss, particularly when Gelabert dances side-by-side with another man. At the end, a woman takes over Gelabert's hip-swinging shimmy, giving it new fluidity and bite.
His choreography for other dancers lacks variety. There's a lot of rushing about, with jumps and high leg extensions. When their choreographer returns, they fall in with what he can do, pulling themselves back.
The younger dancers come running on at the start of Conquassabit: alone at last! Allowed to move at full stretch, they hurl themselves into the movement. There are rough edges to the dancing, but several soloists stand out, showing a sense of style and phrasing. Then the music, taped selections from Handel, cuts to a dramatic aria. Guess who gets to dance a solo to it.
Gelabert's age isn't the problem with this ego trip. Plenty of dancers have remained mesmerising performers, holding the stage through charisma, timing and style. Not in this case. Gelabert casts himself as a master of ceremonies, complete with flashy silver staff, but he doesn't have the authority to hold the show together. My heart sank every time he strutted forward.
With Conquassabit, Gelabert aims to create a convulsive dance, full of accelerations and changes of tempo. He brings the company on in a rush, then keeps them idling. The Handel music is chopped together, sometimes edited or remixed. In one sequence, Gelabert keeps taking off and putting on a hat, glasses and shoes, without making the props significant. Azzopardi's costumes are functional: cropped trousers, shorts, plain tops, in a range of fabrics from black cotton to silky bronze.
Sets and stage space are the most interesting aspect of these dances. The archways in Sense Fi are fun, and so is the giant white balloon that appears above the stage. In Conquassabit, Llorenç Corbella's set design includes a crumpled silver cloth, draped into different shapes so that its rumpled surface catches Mingo Albir's lighting.
Having come up with these scenic ideas, Gelabert doesn't quite know what to do with them. The dancers of Conquassabit spend far too much time hooking and unhooking the cloth, momentum sagging as they rearrange the scenery.
Darren Johnston, appearing on the Edinburgh Fringe, has a much better grasp of settings and atmosphere. As much installation as dance, his Ousia is a striking mix of optical illusion, movement and architecture. Johnston's company, Array, presented the piece at Dance Base@Out of the Blue Drill Hall, though it may transfer to London 's Roundhouse, where Johnston is artist in residence. In Edinburgh, he makes the most of his venue.
To reach the performance, you're led through corridors of fog, narrow brick spaces filled with dry ice, dimly lit in blue. At last, after pushing through curtains, you find yourself in a white box of a room with a gauze screen at one end. Beyond the screen is another white room, containing a dancer.
She dances with her back to us, as Johnston's electronic music crackles and hums. Behind her, a film screen shows watchful eyes, or footage of a woman in a tutu. The live dancer's movements range from twitches and angular poses to classical steps that echo those on the film. Strobe lighting flickers.
Just as Johnston takes you from Victorian brick to a modernist white room, his projections suggest the illusions of different periods: electronica and magic lanterns. At one point, the flashing lights make it look as though both screens are coming closer, a ghostly room accelerating towards its audience.Reuse content