Mary Woodward Review

Extremely Pedestrian Chorales,Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Extremely Pedestrian Chorales

**** (4 stars)

Well, that was extraordinary!

I imagine some people might have been sitting in the audience going “what the **** is this?  Load of rubbish!” –  as four people singly and in twos, threes and fours, hopped, skipped, jumped, stepped and strode around the acting area, each concentrating on a little book they held, and magically avoiding each other without [seemingly] being aware of each other’s presence.

I was caught in a web of sound and movement that explored twelve Bach chorales – some superbly sung by seven musicians sitting at the side of the bare performance area, some exquisitely mangled rhythmically and tonally courtesy of a laptop, and some danced silently or with single ‘instrument’ accompaniment [kazoos, cowbells, mouth organs] by a quartet of dancers – the traditional Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass.  Each was engrossed in their own hand-held score:  occasionally they glanced at us, at each other.  All were furiously counting silently: intermittently they announced something [From the bottom of my heart; Out of the depth I scream to you; oh how insubstantial, how fleeting] or [increasingly as the performance progressed] muttering sotto voce or even quite audibly – and all the time, counting, counting, counting.  There were wigs: some quite petite and restrained, others in a full-blown explosion reminiscent of those in The Favourite, doffed and donned and thrown on the floor.

I think my favourite chorale was For Joy Let Us Jump, but during the whole performance I was revelling in the absurd while at the same time paying homage to the complexity of Bach’s writing, the immense breadth of his harmonic and melodic invention, and the skills and imagination of composer Matteo Fargion, the seven singers and the four dancers – Neil Callaghan, Janine Fletcher, Claire Godsmark and deviser Karl Jay-Lewin.

Many of us really appreciated being invited at the end of the performance to come and talk to the dancers and see the scores from which they were working – tiny marks for each step and its direction, derived from the notes Bach wrote for each individual voice in the chorales.  Would seeing this beforehand have made any difference to our appreciation of the performance?  I think it was quite fun to have to try to work out what on earth was going on – but also would like to see the piece again, knowing how it worked.

There was laughter at times, and richly appreciative applause at the end: a splendid way to open the Manipulate festival.

Extremely Pedestrian Chorales as part of Manipulate Festival (2 -12 February)Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Review by Mary Woodward

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