The year 2015-2016 was a big year for me, coming to Edinburgh after working in the Middle East for several years. One of the first things I did was visit the Festival Theatre, where I fell in love with modern dance (I hate dancing, so don’t switch off if you are also not a dancer). Although I intend to continue visiting the Festival, I will also be trying out other venues, for modern dance, drama, ballet and opera.
Skin (Dance, Edinburgh Festival) 19.08.17
Dark, smart and serious, Skin emerges like an urban sci-fi, combining euphoria with torment in low-lit orange lighting, the spotlights and the menace of the dancers. The ending is one of several moments that leave a lasting image: of balaclava'd figures, their backs turned to the audience and to the protagonist, smiley faces drawn on their backs, and they sway cross-legged, while you wonder if their earlier menace has gone or is only resting.
This was a profoundly impressive dance production overall, and much more than just its ambiguous, gentle-but-sinister conclusion. The star is Michaela Cisarikova's trans-man lead, jerking and twitching, like an insect writhing in agony. At times she is surrounded by a hooded gang, and while she's clawing at her clothes, those around her force them back upon her, to the background of the throbbing drum and bass. Another time – one of my favourite scenes – she takes one spot-lit position at the front, her lank hair and long black dress contrasted at the back by her mother-figure, all in white with heels, the jerking dance routine replaced by the mother's signature Swan-Lake movements and lightning-fast vogueing, in synchronisation: the daughter painfully, desperately imitating the parent.
Somehow in the dark-orange atmosphere and dramatic drum and bass are touches of light, involving a small girl all in white, the protagonist at a young age. At one point we see her imitating a man's choreography, his increasingly gymnastic demonstrations failing to put her off. Embodying the production overall, it is a moment of defiance working in contrast, resistance expressed through barely coherent primal scream and recognisable humanity that elicits sympathy.Ultimately, though, this is a production embodied by Cisarikova's angsty, frenetic exertions, a figure anguished, her stop-start, freeze-frame pauses for breath, her face covered by her uncovered long dark hair, which we see rising and falling as she inhales, exhales, indicating inner torture and the barest pauses. To her movements, the score, designed by Andrea Walker, conjures a modern industrial streetwise aura, hints of Blade Runner speeding up to an evocation of the Wachowskis' Matrix, while the choreography encapsulates the mental-physical disconnect through bouts of uncontrollable self-stripping and resisting. Abstract enough to be not only a hallucinogenic trip through transgender self-repression and yearning for release, but also the imposition of gender itself on everyone. In short, a show for everyone, while simultaneously a haunting, hopeful vision of gender chaos. Absolutely recommended.