For those missing the Edinburgh festival, Zoo venues are providing some of the fringe experience (minus over-enthusiastic flyering) in a week-long digital festival. Zoo has gained a reputation as a reliable place to see good dance and physical theatre and that’s well represented here. There’s an eclectic mix, from previous festival hits such as 201 Dance Company’s Smother (budding queer relationships told through tightly choreographed hip-hop dance) to new film shorts, including 2Faced Dance’s Coded Dreams (dreamy indeed, a blur of bodies and instinctive movement). There are home companies: Scottish Dance Theatre’s These Bones, This Flesh, This Skin is an interactive film where viewers can change the layers of sound and visuals. And there is, intriguingly, a lot of dance from the Czech Republic.
Plenty to delve into, anyway. Marcos Morau’s Tundra, performed by National Dance Company Wales, is a half-hour of evocative, unnerving mood, with eight dancers moving as elements of a larger design, whether in ghostly glide or geometric formation – at one point almost the human version of a Newton’s Cradle. Dressed in a fantastic clash of loud patterns and Russian folk fabrics (designer Angharad Matthews channelling Mary Katrantzou), there’s a dash of optical illusion, a flash of Nijinska’s Les Noces and an uncannily eerie atmosphere.
Much more plainly of this world, LOL (Lots of Love) is one of the most popular works by Luca Silvestrini’s Protein, a company celebrating its 21st anniversary this year. LOL is a comic take on internet dating, made in 2011, pre-Tinder, a quaint time where people write long marketing pitches for themselves and describe what they’re seeking in a mate, rather than just swiping right. So the subject matter has dated, yet the reality of being immersed in online communication couldn’t be more pertinent. It’s the more personal monologues, however, showing the mess, nerves and ambiguity of real-life encounters that are the most compelling.
Totally up to date is Are You Numb Yet? A screen flashing with lights, masks, placards, sirens, protest, shouts, bodies on the floor and hands in the air. It’s a strong, confident short film from Matsena Performance Theatre, who are actor/dancer brothers Kel and Anthony Matsena. Kel’s central performance vibrates with suppressed anger and fear, surrounded by dancers’ bodies evoking beasts and predators in the shadows, as he asks “Are you numb yet? I’ll take your silence as a yes.”
The stage performance that made me itch to be there was Czech outfit Spitfire Company’s Constellations, a collaboration with Orchestra Berg and composer Michal Nejtek. The musicians stand around the edge of the shiny stage while a woman bops to the beat in her own head. The space fills with the escalating stutters and skitters of the musicians and a growing crowd of dancers, and the sense of live-ness and spontaneity makes your own stuck-at-home, sitting-down body bristle. This is the place to come if you want to see someone properly rocking the dancefloor to the sound of avant-garde flute and trombone.
There are more Czech companies to come: Lenka Vagnerova’s Amazones and VerTeDance performing Correction, a piece where the dancers all have their feet stuck to the floor, proving it’s amazing how much you can do within tight restrictions (that’s a topic for our times). Plus you can see London-based Uchenna Dance’s The Head Wrap Diaries. The most decent dance you’ll find for free at one URL right now.