In late July, contemporary dance centre The Place will be housing Edinburgh previews, giving three shows the exciting opportunity to showcase their work before taking it up to the Fringe. Under the banner title Fringe at the Place, companies 30 Bird and Milk Presents, and performer and choreographer Laura Dannequin, will preview their shows – Domestic Labour, Milk Presents: Self Service and Hardy Animal respectively – as a precursor to August. In addition, there will be pop-up performances called Fringe Shorts on either side of the performances, as well as a selection of Scottish ales available from The Place’s bar, all of which makes for an exciting event.
Previewing before heading up to Summerhall, Domestic Labour sees 30 Bird working with artist Chris Dobrowolski, and examines domestic labour, as what the company’s Artistic Director Mehrdad Seyf describes as “the last bastion in the battle between the sexes”. Contrastingly, Milk Presents: Self Service, part of Northern Stage’s Edinburgh programme, is a cabaret-style gender-bending journey through queer identity, spread out over several decades of popular culture. This is yet another stark contrast to Dannequin’s Hardy Animal, an intimate solo show mixing movement and text to explore the struggles of chronic pain for dancers, which will play as part of Forest Fringe. The three shows, then, come together to form a varied and refreshing range of theatre. What can audiences expect from these pieces, which all seem to challenge traditional theatrical form and content?
Ruby Glaskin, theatre artist and member of Milk Presents, discusses with me the DIY aspect of her company’s work. “We strive to create honest homegrown performance,” she says. “From pedaling bikes to power lights, to hand-crafted animation on OHPs, we want to do it all ourselves. We also want to give people a good night out that leaves them with the seed of a question gently brewing in their minds.” Just as attention-grabbing is the work ethos around Domestic Labour. Seyf describes 30 Bird as “an inter-disciplinary performance company working with practitioners from architecture, film, performance, contemporary dance, visual arts as well as non-artistic disciplines such as paleoclimatology, molecular biology and archeology.”
Domestic Labour covers “intimate domestic moments – precise descriptions of cleaning methods – to epic moments such as WWII, The Iran/Iraq War etc”, which is distinguishable from Dannequin’s distinctly personal solo piece Hardy Animal. Exploring the pain dancers’ bodies go through, and, as Dennequin says in the fascinating documentation of the show’s R&D, “what happens to a dancer when they can’t dance anymore,” Hardy Animal sprung from Dannequin’s own experiences. “I didn’t really decide to make Hardy Animal,” she tells me. “I think it was more a case of it flowing out of me.”
The subjects of the three shows vary widely, but what appears to be a common factor is a desire to explore stories in new and interesting ways, especially with uses of multimedia, cabaret or dance. Dannequin tells me how “the dance element” of Hardy Animal “is used in various ways throughout the piece, sometimes interweaved with text, sometimes not.” Also fascinating is how “the dance changes every time as it adapts to where I’m at on any particular day. The body is also very still for some of it.”
From Dannequin’s frank personal exploration to Milk Presents’s exploration into sexuality and queer identity, subject matter is clearly important for these pieces. “We don’t want to make work that’s preachy,” Glaskin notes when I ask her about the subject matter of Milk Presents: Self Service, “but every day we see stuff we want to shout about. Gender diversity and queer identity are things that relate to everybody, and form a huge part of who we are as individuals and as societies. It’s been brilliant to see growing support for new feminist movements, and ultimately queer ideology encompasses everyone’s freedom to be equal in their differences.”
The pieces have clearly developed and changed over time. Seyf is enthusiastic, for example, about the collaboration with Dobrowolski: “We did not want a set designer to create a ‘setting’ for the action. We wanted a visual artist who would create these installations which would transform the performers and even include them in their formation.” Domestic Labour is evidently influenced by 30 Bird’s collaborators; not only have they worked with Dobrowolski, but also they worked on research with Dr Lucy Delap from Kings College London, who specialises in feminism.
Just as interesting is Glaskin’s account of why Milk Presents: Self Service came to life. “We wanted to make a show that dealt with our politics head on and that could be cut up and put back together again,” she explains. “We’ve always used cabaret elements in our work, such as satirical songs, but this time we really wanted to embrace the form. So we knew we wanted to use the cabaret style more but keep our theatricality.”
It is evident that the pieces have developed significantly from their original starting points. Dannequin tells me how, “I had accumulated various bits of texts about my condition over a period of around 18 months and then things started to unfold from there”, illustrating the arduous period Dannequin went through to create Hardy Animal, which was supported in its R&D by Bristol Ferment. Now that the pieces are fully-formed and audience-ready, why is it important to do Edinburgh previews such as Fringe at the Place? Seyf very aptly describes previews as “a bit like an important friendly before the World Cup.”
He tells me that “as an interdisciplinary company we are very excited to be performing at a contemporary dance venue, and it provides the chance for more dialogue and more co-operation in the future.” Dannequin, too, is aware of the importance of performing her show before she takes it to Edinburgh. When I ask her about the experience of performing such an intimate piece in front of an audience, she notes how “I’ve only performed it twice before, so I’m still finding out.”
Other than the fact that Edinburgh previews are “a great chance to share Hardy Animal with the London crowd”, it is evident that they are integral to the development of shows, and hugely help these artists judge their performances in relation to audiences. 30 Bird, Milk Presents and Dannequin have all taken work to the Fringe before, and all appear to be excited about taking their new shows up this year. “As always there’s so much to see, so we’re looking forward to watching some brilliant shows and getting inspired all over again,” Glaskin says. “And we’re looking forward to performing the show we’ve been cooking up and putting it in front of a festival audience.” She also mentions that “this year we will attempt to climb Arthur’s Seat for the first time – hangover or no hangover!”
Dannequin is very excited about the venue of her show, Forest Fringe, which she describes as “a bit of a haven.” She says she is “really looking forward to seeing the work being presented there this year and being part of this community of artists for that time.” For Seyf and 30 Bird, the highlight will be “sharing the show. We are looking forward to the show developing over a long run and hopefully attracting national and international interest.” Before Edinburgh, though, the shows will have their previews at The Place – just as exciting a prospect in itself.
Fringe at The Place runs from 25 – 29 July. You can see 30 Bird on 25 July, Milk Presents on 26 July and Laura Dannequin on 29 July at The Place. For more information and tickets, which are just £10, visit The Place’s website.