Well, that was a real curate’s egg of an evening, excellent in parts, not so in others. It opened with the Skopje Dance Theatre’s Cauldron, the first part of their 2017 Skin trilogy.

This company was the first professional contemporary dance company in Macedonia, founded and led by Risima Risimkin who choreographed Cauldron. Claiming to be without any, and I quote, emotion and physiological borders, it was very powerful and mesmerising stuff. The thirteen uniformly dressed dancers moved to an incessant percussion soundtrack in what, at times, seemed like an hypnotic, trance-like state. For contemporary dance, which is usually performed without any scenery or décor, lighting is a crucial visual element, creating, as it does, landscape as well as mood and dramatic tension. The lighting, oddly uncredited, for Cauldron was excellent and possibly the best I have seen in the Festival so far.

Next up was The Room, choreographed by Russian Olga Vasileva who also performed it. For me this was the high-spot of the evening. It opened, revealing a prone, contorted body in a square of light. Three more square lighting zones appeared and initially Ms Vasileva and the three male dancers moved between the squares as though in some giant chess tournament before exploring the larger area of the stage and their relationship.

The first half closed with Matea Kiselichka’s The Same Source, the second part of Skin. This again was a large ensemble piece to a percussion dominated soundtrack, broken down into several distinct segments. The final one involved the ten dancers sitting on the stage gradually, one by one becoming animated and waving their arms around as though possessed.

Out of charity I was going to ignore Idiom by Irish performer Leonie McDonagh which continued the show after the interval. But, as it was by far the longest segment of the evening, I decided on reflection, that it should get a proportional mention. The reason I was going to keep quiet about it was that it wasn’t dance or anything to do with dance. In fact, I’m not sure what it was to do with or why it was there at all. It was a sort of stand-up act, a thirty-minute monologue by a woman who has stated she prefers talking to dancing. Hmmm.

Dressed in a series of gaudy cheap tracksuits Ms McDonagh was at pains to explain that she always starts whatever she does well and then goes rapidly downhill. Not sure about the first bit but I can vouch for the second. She made a great play of being Irish and extolled Belfast’s greatest claim to fame, which apart from the Troubles, was the building of the Titanic.

I can’t really see in to what context this act would fit, but it certainly wouldn’t be a dance festival. What on earth were the organizers thinking of? Suffice to say that Leonie McDonagh was to the evening’s entertainment what the iceberg was to the Titanic.

The evening ended with Wrong by Adrijana Danchevska, the frenetic final part of the Skin trilogy.    Michael Hasted   9th February 2018


Photo of The Room by and © Mark Olich