Dancing In The Streets (4 stars)

Dancing In The Streets

Gregory Maqoma's Retrace-Retract / Picture: Moeletsi Mabe

Choreographers from four continents respond to the pandemic through film at Edinburgh International Festival

Though Dance Base's live screenings of four films from across the globe can't quite make up for the lack of a full International Festival dance programme, it certainly goes some way to providing a silver lining. The films are all available free online, but Dance Base offered the chance to see each choreographer (with the exception of Alice Ripoll, who appeared via Zoom due to Covid restrictions) introduce their screening through solo dance, and discuss the work afterwards.

Brazilian Ripoll's Chronicles Of Life And Dance is part documentary (probing the favela backgrounds of the dancers from her troupe Suave) part intimate-sensual elegy to the pain and glory of dance. We view close-ups of parts of dancers' bodies that it wouldn't be possible to see onstage: creased, sweating, intensely focussed, tangled up in each other's limbs. The dancers talk candidly about the origins of Passinho dance in the favelas, and a midway central scene, deceptive in its casual setting of a living room, is electrifying as each dancer takes their turn holding court, with their own individual, improvised style.

Edinburgh-based Janice Parker's Small Acts Of Hope And Lament is a tender love letter to movement and nature that came about when she began posting clips of herself dancing in Holyrood Park during lockdown. Warm and welcoming, Parker challenges the notion that dance is for 'elite bodies'; her creation is a joyous invitation to all to feel at home outside and to move. Omar Rajeh's The Odor Of Elephants After The Rain responds to the bleak crisis Beirut has faced, economically and socially, even before 2020's explosion devastated swathes of the city. Rajeh's dancers move in twisting, jerking introspection, baldly vulnerable to the elements, in parts of the city ranging from a 12-lane motorway overpass to a concrete shelter in the harbour.

The standout film, however, is Retrace-Retract by Soweto-born Gregory Maqoma. His solo opening dance prelude is mesmerising: precise, focussed, full of flair, mixing traditional and contemporary influences. Wanting to cohere the shots he'd choreographed of dancers in Soweto, he passed his raw footage to writer Jefferson Tshabalala who created (and narrates) a blistering soundtrack of poetry in Xhosa and English.

It is this marriage of text and movement, colour, rhythm, music, and words that provides the pulse to a film that is as alive with anger and pain as it is with defiance and joy. Maqoma's dancers recurrently create art in the tiniest of spaces: a 'coffin'-sized van, a shower, their homes made 'out of tiny tins' (Tshabalala's words). This might be a piece born of the pandemic, but the truths it exposes about equality, corruption and the lie of democracy go far deeper than the past 18 months.

Dancing In The Streets was screened at Dance Base, Friday 20 & Saturday 21 August; the films are online at eif.co.uk/at-home until Saturday 18 September.

AT HOME: Dancing in the Streets: Alice Ripoll

  • 4 stars

Rio de Janeiro-based choreographer Alice Ripoll's celebratory film about the lives of her company’s dancers. Alice Ripoll runs two dance companies, one of which is based in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. For her International Festival commission, she made a film during the pandemic with the dancers of this company within…

AT HOME: Dancing in the Streets: Omar Rajeh

  • 4 stars

Beirut-based choreographer and dancer Omar Rajeh's film presents a micro to macro view of his home city. *The Odor of Elephants after the Rain *is a specially commissioned International Festival filmfrom Beirut-based dancer and choreographer Omar Rajeh. This film documents Rajeh's home city, first at a macro level and…

AT HOME: Dancing in the Streets: Gregory Maqoma

  • 4 stars

Choreographer Gregory Maqoma's explorative and transformative film *Retrace-Retract *explores life in Soweto. Gregory Maqoma’s specially commissioned International Festival film, Retrace-Retract, captures the sense of a place battling with its own economic transformation and explores the differences and dynamics of…

AT HOME: Dancing in the Streets: Janice Parker

  • 4 stars

Choreographer Janice Parker's reflective filmic series* Small Acts of Hope and Lament,* shot in Edinburgh on her iPhone 6. Janice Parker doesn’t usually perform – she’s a choreographer, facilitator and enabler of others. However, during lockdown, she began to dance daily in Holyrood Park (her local park) in what she…