Outer Limits: Dance and Physical Theatre

In the spirit of Rupert's Editorial, <b>Gareth K vile</b> seeks out alternative performances across the country

Feature by Gareth K Vile | 18 Apr 2009

As always, experimental theatre and dance are easy to find in Glasgow, as the Arches and Tramway are competing to offer the most challenging and radical work. This month, Tramway offers a couple of serious Belgian challengers: Jan Fabre’s Orgy of Tolerance and Victoria’s Venizke. In Edinburgh, the emphasis is more cosmopolitan and family friendly: Divine Performing Arts bring Chinese dance while Le Grand Cirque has performers from fifteen different countries in a spectacular fusion of theatricality and circus acrobatics.

Jan Fabre is strictly for the hardcore. His play The Crying Body led to calls for a French minister who attended the performance to resign. Orgy of Tolerance is a timely attack on contemporary credit card culture and what he regards as the implicit fascism of political correctness. Fabre won’t just state his opposition, but express it through shocking transgression.

Fabre’s concern is that under the guise of tolerance, society celebrates vulgar excess, and cunningly excludes the unacceptable by policing language. While this might chime with a conservative concern about political correctness, Fabre is unlikely to please Daily Mail readers, preferring shock tactics to expose lazy assumptions and prejudice. Expect explicit material and a purgative ferocity.

Victoria, who have worked with the National Theatre of Scotland, take on another modern obsession - celebrity. Somewhere between a satire on reality television and a meditation on the destructive power of fame, Venizke deconstructs both its subject and, from their previous works, the very conventions of the play. Imaginative and provocative, Victoria have built an audience in Scotland, and Venizke is intelligent, loose and dynamic.

Le Grand Cirque is at the other extreme: sell-out runs in Las Vegas, a spirit of celebration and happiness and a series of impressive, individual turns. With a soundtrack of modern classics, show-stopping costumes and an integral light show, Le Grand Cirque is pure entertainment, taking traditional circus skills into the technological age. Acrobats defy death, contortionists amaze, the tone is light-hearted and the pace astonishing.

The fourth performance is another example of theatricality possibility, but moves sharply away from modernity and experimentation. It even questions the status of our own classics as genuinely old, as it harks back over five centuries. Divine Performing Arts are part of the wave of Chinese companies who are hitting Europe, and they revive an ancient dance form, bringing to life mythical tales with colourful costumes and refined technique. Driven by pounding drums, they celebrate the beauty of tradition, using movement as an accessible way to pass on their culture.

Apart from illustrating the wonderful diversity of talents that pass through the theatre, these selections seem to suggest something about the respective cultures of east and west coasts. Glasgow expands its consciousness through harsh, dramatic work, stretching the parameters of performance, creating new forms through rigorous experimentation and daring taboos. Edinburgh travels the world, bringing home the best of international work and offering alternative traditions that shed light on our own theatre.