Isabella Soupart & MP4 Quartet: Steve Reich Project

Dance Base, Edinburgh
August 7, 2019

David Mead

In the Steve Reich Project, choreographer Isabella Soupart aims to reflect on the historical dramas bound up in two of the composer’s works: Pendulum Music, inspired by his Jewish-American childhood during World War II; and WTC 9/11, a commemoration of the September 11 attacks. Different Trains also gets a look in.

Part live, part recorded, the music is a clear winner. At first seated in a line, the four musicians of the MP4 Quartet increasingly stand, face different directions and move around the space. At times, they move as much as the solo dancer. They playing is superb as they bring driving energy to the music.

Thank goodness for them because if you are looking for deeply moving statements from Isabella Soupart’s choreography for the dancer, you are going to be sorely disappointed. There is certainly no sense of the horrific atrocities the music marks.

To Pendulum Music, Shantala Pèpe or Johanna Willlig-Rosenstein (who alternate performances) play with a microphone hung from the ceiling. It’s pointed in various directions, including at the body and swung in a huge arc. It feels like a work in progress; an experiment where different things are being tried hit and miss. Of dance, of movement of the body, there is little.

Remarkably, there’s even less in the second section, which is largely given over to the dancer repositioning the musicians’ stands around the stage, adjusting the height so making the players sit or stand. Then she disappears altogether. The only connection with Different Trains appears to be the broken, flickering lettering projected onto the backcloth.

In WC 9/11, we finally get some of what most people would see as ‘dance’. Pèpe repeatedly falls to the floor. At the end she turns round and round and round, echoing people falling from the crumbling towers of the World Trade Center. It is simple, and meaning is certainly clear, but it’s also very blunt. The former specially lacks any sort of feeling or sense of dignity whatsoever. I can easily imagine offence being taken.

As a music concert, you might just get away with this, although to repeat, it is part recorded. It should provide a hugely rich seam of inspiration for choreography. Why it didn’t is unclear but, as dance, the Steve Reich Project is hugely disappointing.

Steve Reich Project is at Dance Base to August 18. Visit for tickets and details.