Childish delight: Cas Public in 9

Church Hill Theatre, Edinburgh
August 6, 2019

Róisín O’Brien

Cas Public’s 9 is a joyous exploration of the act of communication. Choreographer Hélène Blackburn aims to unite two creative impulses in this non-stop piece: a desire to respond to Beethoven’s Symphony No 9, and an engagement with the “uniqueness of the small defects hidden behind the apparent perfection” of her dancers’ bodies, as inspired by dancer Cai Glover, who is hard of hearing.

Upon entering the Church Hill Theatre, home to many of Edinburgh’s amateur performance groups, you feel as though you have stepped into a family day out. The performers up onstage play with children from the audience, zipping around and crashing into the chairs scattered on the floor with delicate laughter. As the lights dim, the children are ushered to the side but are continually invited back at points during performance.

Blackburn’s dancers are a tightly drilled group. Stepping up to the front of the stage, often directly facing the audience, they work through a sequence of hand gestures (possibly inspired by sign language). The intensity of their gestures increases in a frenzy to complete each movement to its end point. It makes for a whirling yet precise display of arced arms, hunched backs and darting feet. They soon incorporate more strictly scripted ballet language. What are they trying to say, as they repetitively tendu, you wonder: what does a grand battement really mean?

Hanging behind the dancers is a screen showing a video of a young boy with a hearing implant. The story interacts with the work on stage, either through the props popping up both on film and on stage, or, as in a touching moment at the end, ‘delivering’ Cai his hearing aid.

The symphony is played over the dancers in stops and starts, sometimes finding its feet and gloriously finishing a section. The dancers spurt, growl, and grunt, getting the children to join in with them. Sound becomes fractured and inconsistent, yet still powerful, feelings and associations still communicated even if a clear message isn’t.

The end result is a thoroughly enjoyable hour of exquisite dancing and childish delight, all under the banner of a philosophical theme ably translated into movement, without losing its questioning nature.