Assembly Roxy, Aug 16-17
by Gareth K Vile
In the highly competitive marketplace of the Edinburgh Fringe, physical theatre and dance has established a firm presence, and In-Ward is a strong example of the rise of intelligent hip-hop dance. With an ensemble dressed in white, Ebnfloh stretch the movement vocabulary of breaking, locking and popping across the structure of contemporary choreography, approaching a butoh-like abstraction of bodies contorted, flowing and jolting in space. From an introduction that establishes the energy and virtuosity of space, the company offers a series of episodes that suggest the stresses and pressures of modern life.
The most striking elements of In-Ward are when the ensemble work as a unit: individuals break away, making variations on the theme and evoking the anxiety of an age of business and city struggle. Variously smooth and angular, the choreography is emotive and allusive rather than explicit, the narrative never settling but reflecting the rush of commuting, group dynamics and the desperate fight for space and freedom. Like a series of tableaux, the scenarios flow together, offering an overwhelming and impressive showcase for a company of disciplined dancers and a choreography that is both precise and abstract. Never settling, the piece is a work that demonstrates how the implicit and the ambiguous can attain a visceral immediacy through visual theatre.
Claiming In-Ward as puppetry may seem like a stretch: the dancers come from a specific choreographic discipline. And yet both in terms of the subject matter and the movement, critical approaches from puppetry are helpful. The press of the bodies in confined areas of the stage, the depiction of contemporary life as a controlled experience, with the urgency of business or friendships shaping the performers. The human body is suddenly at the mercy of manipulation, and the particular choreography of jolt and response renders the bodies puppet-like and uncanny. The story told by Ebnfloh is the puppetry of everyday life, in which organic physical takes on the animated quality of the marionette.