Edinburgh festival: Dance

Les lieux de là | Poetic and Feral

Les lieux de là Mathilde Monnier Company, Playhouse

Poetic and Feral Our Dynamic Earth (Venue 18)

Following on the heels of New York City Ballet, Mathilde Monnier's contemporary dance company from Montpellier is its very antithesis. Instead of Balanchine's big, beautiful ballet machines, Monnier offers a disparate group of people struggling to come to terms with each other. Where he linked the old world with the new, she is concerned with the here and now.

Les lieux de là (Places from there) is a three-piece suite, an 80-minute assembly of commissions from different festivals. Monnier calls it a choreographic diary, for each section relives the process through which it was created. The dancers respond to a series of tasks, relying on improvisations worked out over weeks and months.

The first part, Les non-lieux (non-places), could be about non-people: the dispossessed, what the French call the 'paperless' - those without identities, illegal immigrants, the homeless. There is no narrative context, but one wall of the set consists of cardboard boxes, into which dancers crash, leaving body parts sticking out; another wall is covered in plywood, with slits through which these marginalised people can disappear.

A musician sits at the back, plucking acoustic and electronic instruments. The score, a collaboration with composer Heiner Goebbels, is a commentary rather than a driving force. There are sounds from a soukh, snatches of music from a garage party, the desolate ticking of a metronome marking the passage of time. A black-clad girl, held upside down, sways from side to side before being passed among the others like a baton. Indi viduals strive to assert themselves in outbreaks of dancing, but keep being subsumed by the group.

Gradually, their dark, shapeless clothes give way to bright colours. The cartons are dismantled, revealing folded piles of felt cloth. The 12 dancers line up, pushing and shoving, then tumble into a slow-motion rugby scrum. Dans les plis (In the folds) emerged over three months of discomfort, discovering how to co-ordinate the heaving heap of humanity. The knot of flailing limbs creates some extraordinary images.

An hour into the performance, the swaths of cloth are unravelled, dragged across the floor, rolled into balls, refolded. The labouring dancers, dirty, tireless, seem dung beetles, human slaves. Isolated in their midst are resolute individuals, balancing precariously in stillness. Frailest of all is an emaciated woman with a shaven head, Eszter Salamon, almost a phantom.

A voice mutters fragments of a poem by Henri Michaux about 'someone, somewhere', as gnomic in French as it is in translation.

Just the ticket for a French festival, but harder to assimilate in rational Edinburgh. Les lieux de là is as much installation art as dance.

British-based soloists share a show in the bowels of Edinburgh's mini-dome, a canopied complex called Our Dynamic Earth. Unusually for the dire dance Fringe, they are well presented by the city's Dance Base. Best of all are David Hughes and Jan De Schynkel, about to launch their own productions at the age of 33.

Coincidentally, both solos depict man-beasts: Hughes as Debussy's Faune, choreographed by Siobhan Davies; De Schynkel as a wild child, torn between a banana and higher things, in Can't Bark , his own creation.

Both are compelling performers, Hughes for his total absorption, De Schynkel for his mania. Watch out for their autumn tours.


Jann Parry

The GuardianTramp

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