ZOO TV launches with National Dance Company Wales in Tundra

ZOO TV online
August 17, 2020

David Mead

ZOO TV. No, not some obscure wildlife television channel but a new online Edinburgh Fringe streaming service for dance and physical theatre from the popular venue that is releasing performance films every day until august 22, with all available on catch-up until August 28. All are free to access and available worldwide, with audiences encouraged to make contributions to artists after viewing each performance.

With its super sightlines and big stage, ZOO Southside is probably the Fringe’s best venue for watching dance, and ZOO TV’s offerings include classics from the last twenty years there and at ZOO’s smaller venues. There are new films too, including Protein’s The Sun Inside, created by over 150 contributors from around the world during quarantine, exploring and interacting with ‘the sun inside’ their homes.

Among the first day streamings was Tundra, Spanish choreographer Marcos Morau’s exploration of barren and desolate landscapes created for National Dance Company Wales. It’s thirty minutes of fluid and unemotional movement that’s not so much robotic as that of people in a daze. It is clinical but never cold. Certainly mesmerising.

National Dance Company Wales in Tundra by Marcos MoreauScreenshot from film
National Dance Company Wales in Tundra by Marcos Moreau
Screenshot from film

After the brief sight of a figure in red, a reference perhaps to the work being partly inspired by the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the opening features the cast of eight clad in floor-length blue bell-skirts looking not unlike those Russian stacking Matryoshka dolls. Feet hidden, they glide around the stage creating patterns and lines as if on castors.

Despite the bright colour in their tops, there’s an eerie feel that is indeed suggestive of a desolate, empty landscape. That it takes place under a rectangle of florescent tubes (lighting by Joe Fletcher) just add to the cold bleakness of the empty tundra.

When they dispense with the skirts, similarly vibrant leggings are revealed. Designer Angharad Matthews’ collection of patterns and prints that feel modern while hinting at tradition, they suggest parts of Scandinavia and the Inuit people of northern Canada, but most of all Russia.

As the music continues with its mix of electronica, Russian and Icelandic songs, Morau’s choreography is all about togetherness. As they form horizontal and vertical lines, there is unison and canon galore. When a dancer does break out, they are soon reabsorbed into the group. Hints at Russian folk dance and soldiers too. Those two things come together when, hands on the shoulders of those either side of them, they march forcefully. They look out with a sort of frightened anticipation. Among the best images is a moment when the dancers line up front to back. Bodies lowly tilt off centre before swinging back like eight human pendulums.

The film works really well thanks to some judicious use of close-ups amid the distance footage that shows the whole ensemble and the patterns and lines they make. The camera (as ever) and especially one moment when Fletcher backlights the cast, does expose the fact that arms and legs are not all exactly the same and the unison not absolutely perfect, but that also adds an element of realism. This may be an tight ensemble but underneath they are all individuals.

But don’t let that take away from the fact that Tundra is wonderfully evocative of everything Morau is trying to show us. Towards the end, snow falls, sending us deeper into his cold otherworld. It is remarkably absorbing, and gets to the point where you actually don’t want him to add variety by developing the structure or movement quality into anything else. Thankfully, he doesn’t.

Among other highlights on ZOO TV are 2Faced Dance’s short film Coded Dreams, shot by photographer and cinematographer Luke Evans; VerTeDance’s celebrated 2015 Czech Showcase-selected show Correction, along with a short new socially distanced version; Spitfire Company’s Constellations I; and Lenka Vagnerova’s Amazones, a violent exploration of the mythical female warriors.

The full ZOO TV programme is available at zoofestival.co.uk.