With the major companies largely on their summer breaks, the Edinburgh International Festival struggles to programme a high standard of dance (though, having said that, I have memories of being taken in short trousers to the 1967 festival and seeing New York City Ballet during its glorious prime). The dearth tends to be masked by falling back on what used to be called ‘ethnic’ product and that peculiarly French phenomenon, the multimedia event spanning circus, mime, video and spoken text, usually sewn up with some thread of an over-arching theme thrown in.
This year it’s the turn of something called Room, presented by La Compagnie du Hanneton, whose chief cook and bottlewasher is James Thierrée, formerly of the whimsically charming Le Cirque Imaginaire. But Room is not whimsically charming: indeed, it seems to me nothing more than an infuriatingly tedious and pretentious ego trip, extending without interval over two excruciatingly protracted hours.
Thierrée is a clown of sorts, but a philosophical one. Spasmodically gurning and moonwalking, he spouts a rambling macaronic of mad-scientist claptrap vaguely related to the semantics of walls and ceilings, spaces that we inhabit and spaces that contain or imprison us. Around him elements of a room are collapsed and reconfigured, as ten supporting performers sing fragments of popular songs, blow or scrape on musical instruments and prance around like marionettes. It’s Dadaist parody, without shape, style or point; it’s also dismally self-indulgent. Towards the end, Thierrée admits to the audience: ‘I owe you an explanation. But there is no explanation.’ And no excuse either.
For those who fancy something more substantial, Akram Khan arrives in the festival’s final week with his reimagining of The Jungle Book; I was lumbered, however, with the slimmer pickings of ‘Refuge’, a series of short chamber-sized events focused on ‘the movement of people across the globe’.