Reflection, Aurora Nova @ St Stephen's, Edinburgh

Shots in the darkness
Click to follow

It's possible to feel admiration and fidgeting indifference in the same moment. In Reflection, the Russian mime Tanya Khabarova imitates rituals, people, animals. She sketches her subjects with cold-eyed precision, becoming a different creature with a few gestures or lighting changes. At the end, two-thirds of her audience gave her a standing ovation. My neighbour and I looked at our watches.

It's possible to feel admiration and fidgeting indifference in the same moment. In Reflection, the Russian mime Tanya Khabarova imitates rituals, people, animals. She sketches her subjects with cold-eyed precision, becoming a different creature with a few gestures or lighting changes. At the end, two-thirds of her audience gave her a standing ovation. My neighbour and I looked at our watches.

Khabarova is a member of the award-winning company Derevo, which makes her an established Fringe favourite. She's slight, shaven-headed and very thin, and moves with extraordinary control. The technique is always brilliant, always external. Khabarova evokes religious ecstasy with a weighted walk, staring eyes, murmuring lips - but no sense of inner transformation. She shows us what things look like, never how they feel.

Khabarova is at her best in a jungle scene. In quick succession, she becomes a spider, a prowling cat, a fluttering bird. She stretches her arms and legs into hooked spider-limbs, twitches her hands into feathers. For the cat, she goes down on hands and knees, her spine sagging into a deep, low-slung curve. As she paces forwards, she grinds each shoulder joint in its socket, a huge rotation that pinches her shoulder-blades up into the muscular lines of a cat's back.

When she plays jungle creatures, Khabarova's detachment works in her favour. Her coldness gives the sketch a sober clarity; there's no attempt to make these animals cuddly.

But Khabarova's people have about as much humanity as her jungle spiders. She puts on a long blonde wig to play Eve, simpering and flirting before eating the apple. In Khabarova's hands, naivety is a near-grotesque quality. Eve's embarrassed wriggles are laid out with clinical neatness, but there's no innocence or enthusiasm. The tangled curls clash with her white-washed face, and her smiles might just be bared teeth.

The point of other sketches is less clear. At the beginning, Khabarova lays out objects on a little table, her clipped gestures set to the rhythms of a perky radio tune. I expected a magic trick: would the egg vanish, or the book reappear under the napkin? No; these were just gestures in rhythm.

As with other Derevo shows, some images take so long to set up that I lost interest before they came into focus. Khabarova retreats offstage and reappears in a head-dress topped with two burning candles. She has an elaborate bustle strapped to her waist, and holds one straight and one curved pole. Then she shuffles into position: she's Sagittarius, the centaur archer, with the bustle for hindquarters, candles for horns, poles for bow and arrow. The constellation is picked out in lights on the wall behind her. Was it worth waiting for?

The Fringe is full of dedicated people - performers, venue managers, obsessive audiences. At Aurora Nova, the venue staff show a real devotion to their artists' interests. Reflection is full of subtle lighting effects, shadows and shafts of light. The fire exit sign, with its fierce green glow, could spoil everything. So, at every performance, a selfless usher holds a piece of card over the sign, protecting the darkness without breaking the fire regulations.

To 30 August (0131-558 3853)

Comments