Aurora Nova, Edinburgh
August, 2006
*** / ****

For the past few years, there has only been one place on the Fringe to go to for compelling international physical/visual theatre. Aurora Nova has almost become a Fringe genre in itself. The shaven-headed Russian company Derevo have been stalwarts of this kind of work. I must admit that I have steered clear of Derevo shows this past few years, feeling that I knew their style well enough and did not find enough in it to excite me every time. I am afraid this renewed visitation confirms me in that view. In Ketzal the performers become a succession of beasts, some recognisable, others fantastical. They are massively inventive, but always it seems to me in the same way. Moreover, their collective appearance and often spastic style of movement suggests to me a disagreeable echo of the old-fashioned freak show, an impression not helped on this occasion by the Pinhead-style topknot sported by the principal performer.

The Czech-based company Farm In The Cave, in contrast, has created a haunting portrait of emigration into a world with no dignified opportunities, and the impossibility of returning to one's old homeland. The Latin title, significantly, means both "Slavs" and "slaves". Although the narrative is gleaned largely from interviews among the Ruthenians of eastern Slovakia, and the compelling polyphonic songs which accompany the action come from Slovakia and the Ukraine, the company's members hail from several Slavic countries, and the experiences depicted are general: pressures of menial work (including sex work), degradation, violence, loneliness. The battered old caravan-trailer which the company manoeuvre around the stage serves as home, prison and often as a huge percussion instrument. The final scenes of mournful communion and elegy set the seal on an account of experiences etched into the collective consciousness of the Slavic peoples over centuries.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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