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:: :: :: 2000-... :: :: , 蠫 .
Physical theatre ofrare depth: Forest byThe Brusnikin Studio

Assembly Checkpoint, Edinburgh
August 7, 2019
★★★★★

David Mead

Itsbeen 30 years since actor Brian Cox brought the renowned Moscow Arts Theatre School tothe Fringe inaproduction ofArthur MillersThe Crucible. Atlast, they are back. The Brusnikin Studio isacollective made upoflatest graduates from the school, and inForest, which Briansson, Alan, co-directs, they have avery special show.

Forest isbased onthe philosophical work ofthe same title byVladimir Bibikhin. Director, Dmitry Melkin wanted tolook attodayspost-ecological consciousness onthe history ofhuman-forest relationship. Inother words, the relationship with oneself. Students atthe School (who are trained inStanislavsky technique) spent two weeks inaforest, atone with nature, inpreparation for the piece. Also represented are Aristotlesprimary materials: earth, fire, wood, metal and water. All are seen orheard.

Contemporary dance, physical theatre and choir singing inRussian, Ukrainian and Belorussian (but nospeech) combine inaseries of18scenes with titles including Awakening, Play-Intimacy, Reflection/Entelechy, Death, Last Rites and Future Perfect Time. There are occasional duets but Forest islargely large ensemble innature asitexplores the forest and mansconnection with it. Indoing so, itcauses one toreflect onthe parallel and increasing disconnect. Those scenes roll neatly into one another. Sometimes you would behard pushed tospot the join.

Despite the range and depth ofinfluences, Melkin never over-complicates, however. Hesalso has done afine job inadapting the work, originally designed tobeperformed inthe round onan11m square space (it has also been performed outdoors inthe street), for the rather smaller Assembly Checkpoint stage with the audience ontwo sides.

Each ofthree main duets have adifferent feel. The first inparticular has aparticular intensity. There ismuch use ofmove and respond, which often gives asort ofstop-motion feel tothe dance. Itisquasi-mechanical and yet comes with much depth. Melkin explained afterwards that hefeels young performers donot have the memories orexperiences towork from emotion immediately; better tostart with that sort ofmovement, build asolid base, and let the feeling come from it. During those duets, the rest ofthe cast sit and watch. Asmuch apart ofthe scene, albeit assilent witnesses, asthe main protagonists.

When the whole ensemble isinvolved, the seven men and women frequently pair up. Sometimes they cling totheir partners looking for support, sometimes they soothe, but sometimes they threaten and even fight. When asseparate male and female groups, they taunt each other, they show off.

The simple white shifts and shirts, with black trousers for the men, work atreat, but the star ofthe designs isthe and the real wooden logs ofvarying heights; some very big indeed. The performers use them invarious ways, often balancing onthem, teetering right onthe edge. Towards the end and inone ofthe more powerful images, each ofthe women ascends one ofthem, falling backwards asiffelled byachainsaw, right oncue with film ofareal tree falling onthe super video projection byKirill Pleshkevich that accompanies the work throughout.

The performers sing too. Sometimes itsalmost chant-like, adding tothe ritual feel ofthe work. Desperately affecting isascene where the women cradle quartered logs intheir arms asthey walk and sing aBulgarian lullaby.

Beautiful, magical, totally engaging from start tofinish; and with astrong message. Forest isone powerful picture after another (which can beenjoyed asjust that ifmeaning isunclear), the mix enhanced even further byNiyaz Karimsfascinating concoction ofdistorted natural sounds along with arange ofinstruments including lyrichord, guitar and kalimba. Ithas arare spirituality attimes, the forest seen asasort ofnatural temple. Itmanages tofeel ancient yet also sovery, very contemporary.

Seeing Dance
8-08-2019


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