Tatyana, Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh Flash Mob, Assembly Hall, Edinburgh Feet Don't Fail Me Now!, Assembly George Square, Edinburgh - Reviews - Theatre & Dance - The Independent

Tatyana, Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh
Flash Mob, Assembly Hall, Edinburgh
Feet Don't Fail Me Now!, Assembly George Square, Edinburgh

Pushkin's tale of chronic timing makes for a dramatic but uneven show, with multiple lovers

Brazil's Deborah Colker has tied up her dancers, dangled them from the rim of a giant wheel and thrown them off the roof of a two-storey house. Putting them in pointe shoes, though, as she does in Tatyana, her deeply personal take on Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, may be an ordeal too far.

These academically approved instruments of torture appear only for the second act, and in theory they allow the mature Tatyana, in radiant white, to glide through Russian society and tower over the now obsessed Onegin, who once rejected her. In practice, the effect is spoilt by putting a legion of Tatyanas in veils and bandage-like lingerie – a touch of Gothic that makes their entrance look like Bride of Frankenstein meets La Bayadère.

In the first act, as well as rejecting Tatyana, Onegin flirts with her sister Olga, goading Olga's fiancé, Lensky, into a fatal duel, although this is not obvious from Colker's ballet. All the characters are represented by multiple dancers, and the ones Colker sympathises with are brought alive by having their emotions refracted. So Tatyana can surrender herself to an eroticised game of blindfold buff while also watching it in voyeuristic fascination. A small flock of Lenskys stands up to Onegin by snapping black flamenco fans at him, the sound magnified into the panicked beating of wings or tribal beating of shields.

Even Pushkin – grafted in as a punkily sinister bleached-blonde puppeteer – becomes a sympathetic figure. As Dielson Pessoa and Colker take turns portraying him, he becomes a confessional on the responsibilities and needs of the artist, with Colker seizing one more self-tailored opportunity to perform to an audience. But the choreographer has too few perspectives on Onegin (arrogant) or Olga (vapid) to need four of each, and the numbers on stage clutter up the storytelling.

Luckily, Colker's high ambition has not completely trumped her talent for death-defying, acrobatic and uniquely 3D dancing. Designer Gringo Cardia gives the company a kind of flat-pack Tree of Knowledge to play on, hung with books like poisoned fruit, its balsa limbs providing ramps, vantages, swinging posts and launch pads for them to prowl round, perch on or leap between. Gobbets of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev floating in a stew of more contemporary music, much of it by musical director Berna Ceppas, contribute to the flavour of a Russo-Brazilian creole – the embrace of two cultures made more exotic for each other by the huge distances between them.

Colker is clearly, as much as Onegin, smitten by Tatyana. Sadly, this ballet, like many love letters, feels like a code that was really never meant to be broken by outsiders.

Elsewhere in Edinburgh, dance appears to be getting more demotic, and reaching out to give audiences a great big hug. The National Folk Theatre of Ireland invites small groups into a private home for tea, cakes and a confab about tradition in What the Folk!, while Belfast-based Ponydance provides an immersive nightclub experience for its funny, on-the-pull Anybody Waitin'?

The more commercially ambitious shows are also more hit-or-miss. Flash Mob, featuring the irrepressible Tommy Franzen, the misleadingly monikered A-Team and other TV dance celebs, is like an episode of So You Think You Can Dance, without judges. Those of us who find Nigel Lythgoe's extraterrestrial dentition the most fascinating aspect of that programme were always going to struggle with this. Feet Don't Fail Me Now!, by Minneapolis collective Rhythmic Circus, is just as slick, but retains its let's-put-on-the-show-right-here infectiousness. It mixes tap, beat-boxing, funk-soul and Sgt Pepper costumes in an exhortation to find, befriend then stamp to death one's inner "boogie monster".

'Tatyana' to 2 Sep (0131 473 2000); 'Flash Mob' and 'Feet Don't Fail me Now!' (both 0131 226 0000) to 27 Aug. Jenny Gilbert is away

Critic's choice

The Juilliard School in New York boasts Pina Bausch among its alumni. Its current students perform a triple bill by Nacho Duarto, José Limó* and the hip and clever young Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman, to Satie, Beethoven and others at the Edinburgh Playhouse (to 2 Sep). See how the Royal Ballet's superb Titian triple bill came to life in Metamorphosis – Titian at the National Gallery, London, with costumes and film of the dancers in rehearsal (to 23 Sep).

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