Daily Archives: August 10, 2012

Speed Of Light

EIF THEATRE/EVENT
Speed Of Light
4 stars ****
Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh

IT WAS about half past eleven on a still, mild night when my group reached the summit of Arthur’s Seat, and stood for a few minutes on that slippery knoll of rock, as light skeins of haar blew in from the sea, drifting past a little below us. By that time, the main visual elements of NVA’s great 2012 project Speed Of Light looked like tiny pinpricks far below us; other groups of walkers, with their steady white light-sticks, snaking like human caterpillars along paths and up slopes, and the team of more than a hundred runners in twinkling suits of lights, forming pink-blue star-bursts, crosses and circles on the great eastern slope of Salisbury Crags, a few hundred feet below.

It’s always there, Edinburgh’s mountain, more than 800 feet of volcanic rock swathed, by daylight, in a rich blanket of shifting shades of green. To climb it, though – as I have not done for more than 20 years – is to be reminded of its sheer, brooding scale and bulk, the formidable roughness of its landscape, a sense of mystery and folded natural richness not obvious from below; and to climb it as part of a pilgrim group, in the gathering dark, wielding identical light-staffs, and guided by kindly leaders, is to rethinks a lifetime’s relationship with this most familiar landmark, even before the runners begin to re-sculpt landscape with their sparkling shapes.

So there is sound, sometimes radiating mysteriously from the head of your own staff; there is light, and there is movement. As with all director Angus Farquhar’s land-art work with NVA, though – from Glen Lyon at the millennium, to Arthur’s Seat in 2012 – the concept matters more, in the end, than the muted artistic achievement. And in Speed Of Light, he mainly redirects our attention to the quiet, steady magic of Edinburgh itself, its magnificent skyline etched between sea and hills; while a waning moon rises orange through the sea-haar to the east, and hangs over our tough, rocky descent from the summit, like a blessing.

Joyce McMillan
Until 1 September
EIF p. 30

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Today As In 1932, It’s Against The Religion Of Our Ruling Class To Seize The Obvious Answer To Economic Recession – Increasing The Wealth Of The Poorest – Column 10.8.12

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JOYCE MCMILLAN for The Scotsman 10.8.12
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IN AN IMPROVISED theatre space at Adam House in Chambers Street – known during the Fringe as C Venue – a group of students from Pepperdine University in the United States are sitting in line on stage, staring at the audience with expressions that range from despair to defiance. Their are dressed in clothes not much better than rags, in the pale, washed-out denim colours of Depression America; and with the help of songs by Woody Guthrie and others – and a new script by Scottish playwright Peter Arnott – they’re telling the story of the Bonus Army, the movement of tens of thousands of First World War US army veterans who, back in 1932, marched on Washington in the depths of the Depression, to demand payment in full of the cash bonuses they had been promised, when they returned from the trenches.

Despite support in the House of Representatives, though, their demand was rejected by the US Congress; the Senators who defeated to the proposal talked of the need for “sound money” , and the danger of printing cash simply to hand it out to ordinary working people down on their luck, even if many of them were war heroes, with distinguished service medals pinned on their shabby shirts. And of course, the longer the protest continued, the easier it became for the political right to dismiss the Bonus Army as a bunch of idlers and troublemakers, who needed to be cleared out of the capital by force; although the brutality of their eventual expulsion was so great that it contributed to the fall of President Herbert Hoover, and the rise – after the 1932 presidential election – of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

And you might think – eighty years on – that we in the west might have learned something from the story of the 1930’s, and the shocking human and political consequences of the economic crash that shaped that decade, from Berlin to the US dustbowl. Yet astonishingly, far too many of our governments seem intent – in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash – on repeating the same mistake; happy to pour money into rash foreign wars, or to print cash to ease the balance-sheets of the banks that caused the crash, but almost pathologically hostile to the idea of spreading that money where it would actually do some social and economic good – that is, into the pockets of the poor, and particularly the pay-packets of the growing millions of low-paid families currently living just one pay-cheque, or less, from financial disaster.

It’s not, after all, as if the case for that kind of switch in strategy is difficult to make. Money redistributed to poor households, after all – through tax-breaks, or a minimum wage hike, or increased benefits – tends to be spent instantly, in the local economy; and if kick-starting grassroots domestic economic activity is your concern, it is clearly far more efficient than giving money to the rich – who will probably invest it offshore – or to the banks, who, in their present mood, simply use it to improve their balance-sheets. History also teaches us that forcing millions into poverty and insecurity is a policy not only cruel and indefensible in itself, but hopelessly expensive in the longer term; it destroys families and communities, trashes social capital built up over generations, and creates colossal social tensions and costs.

Yet do many of our most influential policy-makers care about thse self-evident truths? Apparently not. Their religion is 1980’s-style neoliberalism: and it tells them that spending money on ordinary people is a bad, weak, and dangerous thing to do; whereas laying out billions of public money on dodgy foreign wars, or bailouts for the banksters who run the global financial system is only common sense. As a result, whole swathes of the western economy – in Britain, in the Eurozone, and even in President Obama’s United States – are being held to ransom by a belief-system that has already been condemned by history once within living memory, and is based on greed-driven theory of human nature so negative, so limited, and so obviously flawed, that it gradually destroys the quality of life of everyone who comes into contact with it, both winners and losers.

Well, enough; it’s difficult to feel too depressed by the UK’s flat-lining economy when the the Edinburgh Fringe in full swing, performing its great trick of allowing thousands of silly rich folks to do silly things, in order to yield up the odd nugget of terrific theatre, which uses the stage for the best of all its purposes, to give a voice to the voiceless, and to those forgotten by history. This morning at the David Hume Tower – an apt enough venue, if we’re talking about an enlightened and a balanced society – we’ll be giving one of our first 2012 Scotsman Fringe First Awards to the Pepperdine students, for the sheer quality and intensity of their performance; perhaps they’ll sing a chorus of the song that gives the show its title, Woody Guthrie’s Why Do You Stand There In The Rain?

Something tells me, though, that if we are ever going to turn the tide of history, and restore human wellbeing and dignity to the heart of the political agenda, then we are going to have to start listening to the answers to that question at a deeper level than ever before. Today – after a generation of free-market grandstanding – we know all that we need to know about human greed, lust, venality, and self-serving lies. What we need instead is a fresh, subtle and growing recognition of the counter-forces to all that moral squalor, and how to strengthen them; the sense of dignity, solidarity, fairness, humour, creativity and love that holds people together in the toughest times, and which wil be essential to any sustainable future on our crowded planet. And it’s because it begins to search – both in recent history and in the present – for some tentative answers to those questions, that Peter Arnott’s play for Pepperdine wins an award today; not for reaching conclusions, but for setting out on the political journey I think we will all finally need to make, if we want a future worth living in.

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Mephisto Waltz

DANCE & PHYSICAL
Mephisto Waltz
4 stars ****
Assembly Roxy (Venue 139)

THEIR STYLE may not have changed much, over the last 15 years; the small ensemble of dancers with shaven heads, the predominance of austere, clerical black in the costumes. Yet still there’s no escaping the dazzling visual boldness and imagination of the Russian-born and Dresden-based physical theatre company Derevo, and its astonishing leader and director, Anton Adasinsky.

Their latest show is called Mephisto Waltz, which leads us to expect both a dance of death, and some sense of a Faustian bargain with a subtle devil; and both of those strands are present, in a torrent of imagery that seems like a fierce, ironic history of mankind, ranging from war and flower-garlanded victory, through an age of faith, to a series of confrontations with death, in the shape of the grim reaper, the modern hospital bed, or a sober and spine-shuddering vision of melting ice and environmental collapse, followed by a final brief grab at the tattered garment of the flesh.

At times, this latest devised work – by Adasinsky, his four other dancers, and a creative team led by musician Daniel Williams and designer Elena Yarovaya – seems short of discipline, overstuffed with ideas both chilling and deliberately absurd, and blessed with at least three endings, the second-last of which, about ten minutes from the end, is by far the strongest. Yet at its best – as in Adasinsky’s first appearance as an almost-naked warrior struggling in mud, or in the recurring ensemble waltz that gives the show its title – it contains a quality of movement that takes the breath away, driven by a sweeping classical score that ranges from Holst’s Planet Suite to complex Danube waltzes; and in doomed fields of sunflowers, in its grotesque humour, or in magnificently-lit moments of strange pity and stillness, it prints images on the mind that disturb and thrill, and will linger for ever.

Joyce McMillan
Until 27 August
p.183

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