On Danse Is Pure Joy at EIF 2007

It's easy to forget the Edinburgh International Festival - the original "Edinburgh Festival" - in the hurly burly of the Fringe. The EIF kind of merges into the landscape, as literally thousands of Fringe performers turn the city into a giant theatrical playground. It's partly timing. Coming some 10 days into August, after a fortnight of the Fringe's cavorting, the festival headlines and the reviews, the EIF can seem like something on the side when in fact it was intended as the main dish.

There's also the fact that the EIF has much fewer shows. But where the Fringe is often talked about in terms of quantity ("31,000 performances of 2,050 shows in 250 venues") the emphasis with the EIF is very much on quality. Over the course of the next three weeks Edinburgh will be regaled with classical music, opera, ballet, and theatre productions of the highest order.

I didn't make it out to the opening night concert on Friday, which saw BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus performing Leonard Bernstein's Candide at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. Watch EdinburghGuide.com for reviews of this and other festival shows though.

But I did get out to the the Playhouse last night, to the catch the first show in the EIF dance programme, On Danse by Compagie Montalvo-Hervieu. What a treat! This ensemble work is a multi-media, multicultural fiesta of different dance styles set to the baroque music of Rameau.

I'd seen the poster for the show (right), but I didn't realise until after the show started that choreographer team Jose Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu have merged video projection with dance on a split-level stage. Use of video in live performance can go so horribly wrong, but they've done it so well here that at times dancers almost seem to morph into video images of themselves. The interactions with the projections - lions, tigers, flamingoes, giant spring chickens, and huge bunnies - that slouch or pitter-patter across the screen are inch accurate and provide a great source of amusement.

The decision to rearrange 18th century strings and harpsichord for modern and classical dance arrangements is an inspired one. Then they add dancers trampolining in 18th century dresses, or a girl riding elephantback naked across the stage. Montalvo and Hervieu have let their imaginations loose, but the success of the show is ultimately down to the huge amount of talent on stage. The dancers, who come from a wide range of backgrounds, don't disappoint, giving us a broad sweep of different dance styles from exquisite balletic elegance to breathtakingly fluid breakdance contortions, flashy flamenco to jerky robotic dance.

The show is consistently humourous, in a sweet-natured way, with a steady stream of visual jokes. A black girl
with a voluptuous bum points it at the audience and wriggles her cheeks. The cast includes some non technically schooled dancers - a clown, a physical comedian, a spit rapper - who provide innocent humour on the show's theme of "why we dance?"

There's not much of a story, but it doesn't really matter. The show is propelled along by sheer vivacious energy and joyous invention.

On Danse is showing again tonight and tomorrow at the Edinburgh Playhouse at 8pm. Last night was not sold out, so you could still get tickets at www.eif.co.uk .

There are also video clips of the show at the EIF site.