Wednesday 26 August 2015

EIF 2015 - En avant, marche!, or, A Way of Finding Courage

I can explain what this show is about. I'm not sure that I can recapture why it packs such a punch.  The primary story tells of the first trombone of a brass band (the remarkable Wim Opbrouck) who owing to illness can no longer perform. Through broken snatches of speech, gargling, song, silence and some remarkable choreography the show meditates both on this loss and the perhaps more terrible final one which confronts him. Simultaneously, the show is also a larger meditation on the nature of community – a striking commentary on which is provided by the participation of a local brass band from wherever the show is being performed (in this case the superb Dalkeith and Monktonhall Brass Band). The contrast between their history (as described in the programme) and the jobs of current members (elicted as part of the performance) is especially eloquent.

Early on the piece is often funny (the first trombone's wife's bitter complaints about her husband's insistence on sleeping with his trombone as well as her). But the tone steadily darkens. When the D & M forces bring matters to a conclusion with Holst's Jupiter, simply played straight out to the audience, it was powerfully moving.

Music throughout is a key element. Like Theatre de Soleil a couple of years ago extensive use is made of classical and operatic excerpts but to much more powerful effect. In a curious way parts of this also reminded me of the framing device of the musical The Drowsy Chaperone (a musical theatre aficionado at home listening to his CDs). If you've ever listened alone to a heartbreaking segment of opera you may also have some idea what I mean (especially if, like me, you have a tendency to air conducting). From the Parsifal Act 1 Prelude on tape with live cymbals at the beginning to the crazy idea of performing Schubert's Der Leiermann on horn mouthpiece to accompany the final stunning dance sequence (which shouldn't work but completely does) the borrowed music is a crucial element to the evening's success.

The choreography as a whole knocks most of the EIF's dance offerings so far this year for six. Some evidently found the sight of the sizeable Opbroeck being lifted by the much slighter Hendrik Lebon funny – to me it was anything but as the whole sequence built, as it seemed to me, to his inescapable end. Other moments especially worth singling out are Opbroeck's superb piece of trombone martial arts early on, and the crazy drumming interlude that separates the two parts which is mesmeric.

Sadly there were only two performances of the show scheduled, so I can't urge you to see it, and I fear it probably won't be picked up for a repeat elsewhere in the UK. What I can say is that this is the kind of strange, unclassifiable show that so often yields the best work at the International Festival (other recent examples have included last year's Exhibit B and Delusion of the Fury). For me this was the most fascinating and moving evening of the non-classical/opera section of the 2015 programme so far. Hopefully the Festival will continue to have room for such things.

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