Brotherly tensions: Chang Dance Theater in Bout

Summerhall, Edinburgh
August 9, 2019

David Mead

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Chang Dance Theater wowed audiences at Dance Base with Bon 4 Bon, a look at family life, their growing up as brothers, and their connections to dance. The good news is three of the brothers are back, this time at Summerhall, with what might be called ‘Round 2’: Bout, another classy work that again looks at their brotherly relationships, this time through the ritual and physicality of the boxing ring.

Bout immediately draws you in. The tight space that is the Old Lab, and its black walls, focuses the attention superbly. It intensifies everything. It binds the action tightly, just as boxing is bound to the ring, except here there is no chance of going through the ropes.

Chang Dance Theater in BoutPhoto Lucas Kao
Chang Dance Theater in Bout
Photo Lucas Kao

It opens with one brother pacing around the stage. There’s a rhythmic thud, thud, thud on the floor like a clock ticking down. He’s soon joined by another, then the third. Silence hits as they stop. One hits the floor, the other two pausing momentarily in freeze-frame. One can imagine the ‘click, click’ of the ringside cameras.

Boxing motifs are worked easily into the choreography, sitting naturally within the dance. They shadow box. Relationships are strong, yet sometimes strained. They support each other as brothers do, but play fighting turns easily into the real thing. Sometimes they quite literally stand toe to toe. They spar and grapple, one of the three acting as referee-cum-peacemaker.

Always full of depth, Bout has tension, focus and energy, even when the moving stops. Even in moments of silence. The three brothers fill the space with feeling, mood and movement, although it’s at its best in those moments when all three are involved, which is most of the time.

The music is as unsettling and taut as the choreography, especially David Lang’s haunting Stick Figure for chamber ensemble.

If you seek one of those select shows that’s an antidote to some of the overly pretentious dance on the Fringe, dance that’s too bound up in concept and forgets the moving body, look no further. Bout is Fringe dance at its best.

Part of the Taiwan Season, Chang Dance Theater perform Bout at Summerhall to August 25. Visit for details and tickets.