Edinburgh Fringe: SMACK & Spektakel

theSpace Triplex, Edinburgh
August 24, 2022


SMACK & Spektakel is a bit of an unusual title. A bit of an unusual double-bill too, but one that will surely send you away with a broad smile on your face; certainly one that deserves to the seen more widely.

Choreographed and performed by Ingvild Marstein Olsen, Olivia Edginton and Vera Ilona Stierli, SMACK focuses on the influence of pop culture on young women’s self-image and ideas of glamour. A wonderfully observed social commentary, it’s a conversation between the digital camera and the female body that explores nostalgia, criticism, awkwardness and self-confident physicality.

We meet the three dancers, all in all-pink, setting up setting up the equipment and space. Even the tape marking out the floor is pink! Are we early or they late, you wonder. Neither! The prologue out of the way, Aqua’s annoyingly catchy official ‘Barbie Girl’ music video is seen on a laptop, constantly restarted by the dancers as they flirt suggestively with a video camera in a sequence that subtly changes over time. Their gaze, their focus, is very much the camera. The audience are sort of invisible bystanders. Indeed, so in thrall to the camera are the dancers, that one continues to perform for it after it has been turned off.

Photo Verena Leo

As the camera’s pictures are projected onto the back wall, the eyes constantly flip back and forth between live and film. If it’s difficult not to see the trio as Barbie’s then, it’s even more so later when they respond with superb togetherness to instructions from off stage. “Raise your right arm…look left…drop.” As in the opening, the sequence loops but with small changes. And yet all the time there’s just a hint that, while they don’t actually reject the idea, they don’t really want to be Barbie Girls. Perhaps that explains the sense of rebellion that creeps in when Olsen gets ahead of the instructions.

It ends with a slow dance to Aqua’s ‘Turn Back Time’ as fairy lights wash over the dance floor. The last words we hear are rather appropriate: “Show body…shirt removal.” The music and Barbie imagery may be 1990s but SMACK is just as much a commentary on the way some use 21st-century social media.

Spektakel by Natalie Sloth Richter in collaboration with the performers Johanna Merceron, Irene Ingebretsen, Gaia Cicolani, Svenja Bühl and Vivian Triantafyllopoulou, is a totally unpredictable and sometimes slightly madcap piece. Full of eccentric characters and images, it is highly imaginative, quite absurd, and often very funny.

It’s helped along by an inspired music: a selection of well-known pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The combination sounds odd but works so well. Then again, should we be surprised? After all, the composer was well-known for his sense of fun and witty wordplay in letters and compositions.

Photo courtesy Natalie Sloth Richter

On a stage furnished with a rug, a rail of clothes, a suitcase, four pot plants and lots of candles, four of the dancers form comical tableaus as the lights go on and off. Think family photos. When that suitcase pops open, a hand snakes out to dance a finger can-can, before the packed away Bühl unfolds herself and joins the rest of the cast.

The fun ramps up. So much is going on, right, left and centre, that it’s a job to know where to look. Sometimes mini-narratives are apparently being played out. Sometimes it just seems completely off-the-wall. A little reminiscent of the craziest of silent movies, nothing makes much sense. Why does a dancer balance pot plants on her leg? Why does another run round Isadora Duncan style. Why is a human bull ridden across the stage? Frankly, who cares? It’s great frivolous, fun.

Amongst it all, there’s a more considered floor-based duet to the Adagio from the Clarinet Concerto for Cicolani and Merceron. But even that comes with a healthy dose of quirkiness Later, Cicolani, now in black coat and dress, runs up against a rather snarling Merceron in red.

At the end, to the Motet in D Major for Choir and Orchestra, K. 618: Ave verum corpus, one walks round and round as the final image is constructed. Was it all a dream? If it was, why can’t they all be like this? Spektakel is probably the sort of mad piece that most choreographers probably have in their heads but that few dare to put out there. It’s genius, a dance that will live in the memory for a long time.