UniverSoul Circus: Hip Hop Under the Big Top

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Underbelly Circus Hub
August 12-25 (17:00)


UniverSoul Circus is American’s largest circus, now in its 25th year of operation. But it’s more than just an American act, and it’s much more than hip hop. It’s more than just a circus too, with energetic music, dazzling theatrics, dance, comedy and mind-blowing spectacle. The show was dreamed up by top US promoter Cedric Walker, who wanted to use his music promotion background to create a lively, interactive family show that celebrated urban African American communities. UniverSoul Circus has been seen by 20 million people, features performers from right across the globe and is making its European premiere right here at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Ringmaster Lucky Malatsi from South Africa warmed up the audience immediately; humorously pitting the sides of the ring against each other to follow along with his whistles and claps. A beautiful ballerina princess emerged in a sparkling tutu, as if out of a child’s dream. Fresh the Clownsss, a quartet from Detroit with equal doses of silliness and swag, burst on the stage. An instant hit with the kids, there are truly the fresh face of clowning. These hip-hopping clowns with slick choreography and contemporary fashions took the internet by storm with their viral dance video to ‘Juju on the Beat’ back in 2016. Stillness descended once more as we were treated to dance duet Duo Amour from Cuba, to tell of a love story through an elegant, touching and mesmerising dance both on the ground and high up in the air. We shouldn’t be surprised. Cuba consistently nurtures some of the most skilled and refined dancers in the world.

Caribbean Dynasty blew us away in my favourite part of the show, proudly sporting their home country flags of Trinidad and Tobago. In a blast of the best, performers on huge stilts, known in the Caribbean as ‘Moko Jumbies’, towered above us as they danced to the fast beats of soca music. They gave us a spectacular performance; entertaining the crowd while retaining the power and meaning of authentic Caribbean culture.  Then they blended traditional characters from Carnival masquerade into an old-school limbo performance and hyped it to the max. How hot, low and dangerous can you go? By the time the four young contortionists came out to a remix of Man’s Not Hot, it was almost too much to witness in one sitting. The ‘Bone Breakers’ hail from Conakry in Guinea in West Africa and can bend and twist their bodies in eye-watering ways. They then casually get up and saunter off with a smile, as if it’s something we can all do every day.

Two acrobatic groups have you biting your nails on the edge of your seat. We were asked to stay silent to aid the concentration needed for more and more dangerous and skilful acts by The Willie Family High Wire, a six-person troupe from Colombia, South America. Knowing what balance it takes just to walk along a thin wire, to see them perform unbelievable acrobatic stunts at 18 feet up in the air really is breathtaking. An equally impressive Mongolian troupe in leather outfits and boots also know how to take it to the top. Expect much tumbling from a giant teeterboard and climbing higher and higher in a dazzling display of trust and teamwork.

There’s an unbelievable bundle of fun packed into this show for adults and children of all ages. In between sets, the clowns had the kids smiling, lip synching along, leaping up into an impromptu ‘flossing’ dance off, and bouncing giant balls around, so there wasn’t a single moment to get bored. I left that tent stunned, in awe, and full of joy. As the kids say, it literally gave me life. I feel genuinely honoured to have had the opportunity to catch this show in the UK, and I can’t stop raving about it to everyone I know. We’ve been blessed with UniverSoul Circus’ European premiere. Every seat at every performance should be filled. You’d be stupid not to go. Beg, borrow and steal if you have to. Have I convinced you yet?

Lisa Williams

five-stars

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Dietrich: Natural Duty

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The Pleasance Courtyard

August 14-27 (15.30)


My good friend Louise had come over from Glasgow, to stop at mine and take in some shows. Its the first week of the Fringe and lots of two for one seats are available. Louise invited me to accompany her for this spellbinding performance of Dietrich: Natural Duty. The Pleasance was buzzing on this very pleasant August Tuesday. Everyone was chatty. We were a little early. So after we had picked up our tickets we sat under a tree on baby chairs while Louise did some Transcendental Meditation. While I Aume’d quietly to my self.

After about fifteen mins our performance was called. We took our seats in the lovely theatre. Hmm I thought. This is a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon. The lights went down and the performance had begun. I hadn’t put much thought into what we were going to be seeing. The intention was to enjoy and not capture, What followed was too captivating to not write about. Because it had me from the start.

The most beautiful of she males performed this one (Wo) Man show. Peter Groom embodied Marie Magdelene “Marlene Dietrich with a magical history lesson in vintage film history. Peter brought Ms Dietrich to life to reveal just how important and Brave this actress had been, during the outbreak of World War Two. Our heroine had to choose between the love of her country and what she knew was right. Renouncing her German Citizenship. Dietrich joined the American Army and fought against her homeland in order to free her people from Hitler. Becoming a famous actor and singer in the process.

Peter Groom sang the songs of Dietrich beautifully, performing his role perfectly. and his audience, we were in the palm of his hand from the moment the lights went down and Marlene Dietrich was brought to life.

A Fantastic Work Of Art.
Perfect Afternoon Viewing.
It Is Awesome.

Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert

five-stars

Tabarnak: Cirque Alfonse

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Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows

Aug 14-19, 21-25 (19.00)


My Canadian friends inform me that “Tabarnak” is a pretty strong cuss word in Quebecois’ French; what you exclaim when you see something outrageously fantastic. Well, Tabarnak to that! Circus Alfonse return to the Fringe after 2015’s outstanding “Barbu”, with a new show that wows the audience to their feet in applause at their sexy, boisterous, electro-trad inflected acrobatics. Just as muscular and edgy as usual, these guys and girls have a swagger about them that belies their sheer skill.

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When the lights went up the audience could have been forgiven for thinking that the performers were late, or hadn’t even shown up. The stage was littered with artefacts of one of the great religions of French speaking Canada – ice hockey. A song started by one of the figures on stage picked up by one after another unfolds into a rollerskating acrobatic routine. It’s impressive stuff but these guys are just warming up.

By way of a short musical number (and the live band gives a mesmerising accompaniment throughout), the show shifts to a mood that will be familiar to anyone who has seen Cirque Alfonse – a left-field, cultic vibe. Under a peculiarly profane stained-glass backdrop, bell-ringing campanologists, in their underpants, begin spinning into the high top tent on the end of bell-ropes. It’s like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys meets Punk Rock.

The performers complement each other well, with each having a different style, be it powerful and explosive or light and acrobatic. The overall result is a demonstration of absolute trust and perfect timing. The effect on the audience is mesmerising. What makes this troupe stand apart from other cirque acts is their smell-of-the-wild homespun presentation. There’s an anarchic feel to their show that mixes ice-hockey, religion, an industrial vibe and, at one point, a home-knitted take on Sufi Whirling Dervishes. The show ended with a powerful routine on a chain swing that brought the audience cheering to a standing ovation. Superb music, awesome stunts and great presentation left the audience howling for more.

Mark Mackenzie

five-stars

Aletia Upstairs: A Queer Love Of Dix

by Alex Coley


The Planet Bar

13th, 14th & 19th (18.00)


Aletia has spent a lot of time with The Grand Master Demarco, who is a local hero in Edinburgh and further afield, to gain the inspiration for her performance art. Heralding from Cape Town in South Africa, now residing in London, Aletia is about to complete her PHD entitled ‘An Imaginative Exploration and Performative Manifestation of the Richard Demarco archive. As inspiring muses go, only greatness could be drawn from spending time with Richard Demarco (CBE), whose European Art Foundation is based at Summerhall in Edinburgh, which is where this performance should have taken place, Indeed both my editor of the Mumble and myself had thought that Summerhall was where this performance was being presented. I arrived there on Saturday after my pretend Telly interview on Middle Meadow Walk, went into the press office and asked for my review tickets for Aletia Upstairs. Only to be met with blank faces. It was one of them moments. OMG, I’m in the wrong place with 10mins to performance time. Its an easy mistake to have made. We phoned Aletia and apologized and rearranged our date for the following night’s performance.

The Performance.
It’s a catchy one for the Fringe. Set in the world of expressionist painter Otto Dix, Julia Berber – Anita Berber’s fictional sister – sings Weimar cabaret songs and relates the Weimar period to contemporary events.

If you want to hear good singing and wonderful music, find out how the Weimar Republic relates to our world today and sing along – in a German accent – to some classic cabaret songs, come see it!
Read the full interview

FullVintageAlex CowleyThis was the time in Germany after the Kaiser had fled and The First World War had ended, and for a short period of time, sexual freedom and Socialism became the Arts’ best friend. Indeed my experience of last weeks Deitrich performance in The Pleasance Courtyard had ignited my wonder for this inspiring period in history, because so much great art and cultural inspiration had been drawn from the epoch. With this in my mind and with Aletia’s glowing credentials, I was giddy with the expectation of witnessing something very special. I was not disappointed, Aletia’s Queer Love Of Dix was performed to a backdrop of the paintings Otto Dix had painted through the Weimar period. Bringing to life Julie Beiber & taking us back to 1930’s Germany, Aletia showed us life through the eyes of a performance artist at that important time in world history. Combining a well-crafted script and beautifully sung songs drawn from the period to perfection, we were shown our age’s relation to those halycon Weimar times; reflected by present-day Tory austerity and the rise of The Third Reich.

A Queer Love Of Dix really has the potential to be massive, well indeed it is the work that will make this beautiful lady a Professor in the world of performance art.

The Venue.
The Planet Bar is as camp as they come, a small watering hole in Edinburgh’s Pink Triangle. The performance stage was right next to the Gents toilets, with a big heavy door that gave a really big bang every time the door closed. The walkway to the toilet was right through the performance space and non of the men going for a pee gave any respect for this performance of mastery that was taking place. This was frustrating me as much as it was Aletia. Rising above the struggle and against the downfalls of such a poor venue choice, an evolving masterful work was presented. After the performance, Aletia told me that Saturday’s gig was much worse. It made me wonder if her venue location manager had been sacked yet. With a work of such outstanding quality, one can only see this as a work in progress. A dress rehearsal for the greatness that will come. A Queer Love Of Dix is a quality piece of theatre and performance art that given the right venue and the right stage, will shine its magic to perfection.Great things will come.

Mark ‘Divine’Calvert

five-stars

Venue = 1 star

Zach & Viggo and Thumpasaurus: Where Does the Love Go?

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Underbelly Cowgate

Aug 14-26 (21.20)


Welcome to the collaboration of the year. Welcome to the stunning fusion of youth & chemistry that is award-winning Zach Zucker & Viggo Venn; teaming up with LA-based, intergalactic dance force, Sun-Ra-inspired, Thumpasaurus. There is a story; set in a world taken over by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. A Frankenstinian doctor has created an anonymous worker for the company, played by Zach Zucker as the Pinnochio hero of the show. There is music; Thumpasaurus are just, like, ridiculously good, They look like a bunch of D&D kids, whose foot-stomping free-form jazz accompanies the action & whose bass player must have been born with a full size one in his hands, under some pool table in Santa Fe. There is dancing; of the Torrance Community Dance Group sort. There is clownerie, like Gaulier on ketamine, & above all there is laughter, lots of it. ‘That was like the Saturday Night Live sketches, but better,‘ said my American wife, who should know.

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Last year we met this amazing funk band in LA called Thumpasaurus and convinced them to come out to Edinburgh. They had a killer run and afterwards their singer Lucas wrote a 20 minute opera called Where Does The Love Go. We decided to team up and built it out to an hour-long collaborative show that is going to be very serious and artistic. Zach & Viggo

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Where Does The Love Go? is an infinitely memorable show, very much of its time, an early record of humanity losing its soul to convenience. The stage on which it is set is simply ensembling with talent; Zach & Viggo are superbly accomplished performers while the band were, as I’ve said, exceptional. But there is more, for into the mix came the supercilious, carnival-barking character of Jeff Bezos, played by an actor I didn’t quite catch the name of, but actually outshone everyone else. Lets just call him MR X for now, & I feel the show should be renamed Mr X, Zach & Viggo & Thumpasaurus! By the way, I am still singing the operatic theme tune as I write this, such an ear worm it is! A truly remarkable hour!

Damo

five-stars

(Mes)dames

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French Institute – Salle Emilienne Moreau-Evrard

Aug 4-5, 7-14, 16-27 (times vary)


The elegant French Institute was the perfect setting for this neo-classical dance performance choreographed by french born Constant Vigier to the electronic pop sounds of Christine and the Queens, and Perfume Genius. Christine and the Queens being the alter ego of Heloise Letissier, and the main inspiration for this 30 minute piece. Danced by three young ballerinas from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland; Daisy Mullen-Thompson, Jessica Neilson and Nicola Scholefield. They are three young women faced with the pressures of modern life and their struggle to find their own place in a society that is bound by labels, conformity and expectations. Their fragility is expressed in the choreography beautifully, and the quality of dancing is extremely high. Much of the piece is on pointe; perfect pirouettes against the backdrop of electronic pop, with precise synchronicity that couldn’t be faulted. The mix of traditional and modern, made for a cool and refreshing performance that would be enjoyed by all ages.

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The piece is choreographed to five tracks, which are centred around LGBT issues; Letissier identifying as pansexual, and Perfume Genius, a gay man who was subjected to homophobic attacks. The photo shoot piece, where the dancers are trying on clothes for a fashion shoot, actually refers to an experience Heloise had, where she had been photoshopped for a magazine piece, presumably to conform to a feminine ideal of beauty. In the previous track “ugly pretty” she sings of the mockery of being pretty, “without distraught there is no pretty”. The other pieces are about women in different places in terms of who they are. The dancers are juggling home life and work life while trying to figure out who they really are. Their youthful smiling faces mask the inner struggles that they are all experiencing as they journey through life; seeking equality, liberty, love and solidarity. A very enjoyable show, with great choreography, cool music and flawless dancing.

 

Sophie Younger

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An Interview with Aletia Upstairs

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Aletia Upstairs has been waiting for the Fringe to warm up to her satisfaction before she makes her deliciously grand entrance this weekend…


Hello Aletia, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Aletia: Hello Mumble! I am from Cape Town and I’ve lived in London for 11 years.

You are currently in the 4th year of your PHD – can you tell us about it?
Aletia: My PhD is close to its end now. It’s entitled ‘An Imaginative Exploration and Performative Manifestation of the Richard Demarco archive’. For this reason, over the last four years, I’ve spent a lot of time at the Demarco European Art Foundation at Summerhall and a lot of time with Richard.

As a performer, what are the key ingredients to your style?
Aletia: Vintage songs, cabaret songs, jazz and singing song-writing. One could say acting through song with visual engagement and audience participation.

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Last Fringe your ‘The Artist as Explorer’ went down really well – how did you find the experience?
Aletia: ‘The Artist as Explorer’ was a collaboration with Richard Demarco about his legacy. I wanted to create a piece about his legacy as it was my final practice for my PhD I am doing on his archive. My favourite part of the practice was using his words as lyrics for my songs. The fact that we got a five-star review for that was certainly based on Demarco’s involvement. The songs from ‘The Artist as Explorer’ have now been recorded and will be released as an EP by the end of this year.

What have you got for us this year?
Aletia: ‘A Queer Love of Dix’ which will be on at The Planet Bar, at 6pm on the 11-14th and 19th. It’s a brand-spanking-new show that I created over the last four months since Kevin Short (Shortcut Productions) asked me to part of his new Ed Fringe venture this year. The title was his idea. It’s a catchy one for the Fringe. Set in the world of expressionist painter Otto Dix, (Julia Berber – Anita Berber’s fictional sister) sings Weimar cabaret songs and relates the Weimar period to contemporary events. I’m also doing another show, called ‘Bilbao is not in Spain’, a collaboration with Doctor Woof, on the 15th to 18th at the Planet Bar, also at 6pm. This cabaret show is about living life as the authentic you.

How did ‘A Queer Love of Dix’ come about?
Aletia: The starting point for this show was a call-out from a London venue, with very specific criteria to create a show about Cabaret and the Weimar Republic, focusing on Jewish Composers, which I applied for, but it didn’t get selected. Kevin Short from Shortcut Productions, who was my venue captain when I did ‘Mata Hari’ at the Fringe in 2013, contacted me and asked if I wanted to be part of his Fringe Season at the Planet Bar. I actually said no at first! I had performed at the Fringe four times and enough is enough! Or is it? I told Kevin that I had written a very vague proposal based on the criteria supplied by the London venue and I already knew most of the songs. This kind of show is something that I had wanted to do for a very long time as it really fits my performance style, so he managed to talk me into it. He’s been a friend since we met at the Fringe. That’s one of the amazing things about the Fringe — you make great friends. The difficult part was writing the text which had to relate the events of the period of the Weimar Republic to contemporary events…and the character. Because this was such a last minute decision, the poster image is a Dix painting rather than an image of me. It was a new process for me – starting to work from the poster image backwards. Am I going to be her – Anita Berber? How am I going to work with this image and give it a reason for being there? Another challenge was the German accent. I studied German for this show. It helped me with the pronunciation, understanding the German lyrics and of course, the accent, but I also had to study the accent separately.

You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in an Edinburgh street, what would you say?
Aletia: If you want to hear good singing and wonderful music, find out how the Weimar Republic relates to our world today and sing along – in a German accent – to some classic cabaret songs, come see it!


A Queer Love Of Dix

Planet Bar

Aug 11-14, 19 (18.00)

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www.aletiaupstairs.com