Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh Fringe Festival; 6th August 2014
Walking up the steps into the Debating Hall for Duum, the visual spectacle from Italian troupe Sonics, feels like walking into a club, with hazy air, blue lights, and pulsing ambient dance music. There’s a sweet, fresh, sherbetty smell that wafts around the proscenium arch theatre venue with it’s vaulted ceiling, transporting us to somewhere different, sacred.
That ‘somewhere different’ is a futuristic underworld to which humankind has retreated, and now the elder of their tribe longs to return to the open air, leading his youthful followers with him. Processing through the central aisle to the stage, we see the hunched character Serafino in an oversized larval mask, with his lithe entourage bearing glowing orbs of colour, and we hear a deep, sci-fi sounding voice-over that speaks of their people’s history.
The cyber caveman look of Serafino, ‘The Architect’, is reduced to sheer lycra costumes with delicate straps and glittering vines and foliage for the other company members; make-up, hair and movement style suggesting this group is what would have evolved from the 90’s subcultures of festival hippies and cyberpunks if they had descended to a subterranean level.
The timeline is a little confusing, as Serafino has memories of the world above, yet the text suggests his younger kin are the product of 1000s of years of evolution. This is a fantasy realm, however, so I try to ignore it. Sometimes I think they are with him on his quest to the surface, at others, they might be memories… It’s not always clear, and the costume changes from one shiny piece to another don’t help to set the characters.
The score, by Sergio Mari and Fanzia Verlicchi, is dramatic and powerful – more so than any of the aerial or acrobatic routines – and the artistry of the lighting is superb. The narrative threads that come from pre-recorded texts, as though projected thoughts of The Architect, are clearly spoken, yet accented and presumably translated from the original Italian, adding to the otherworldy vibe.
The troupe are sweet and earnest in their utopian dreams and hope, but the plot is not deep, and the circus acts are not intimately connected to the narrative, except through the conceit that verbal communication in this tribe has evolved to a physical understanding and flight. The short sequences of aerial hoop, sling, silks and giant chandelier are a physical kind of visual design, rather than communicative acts. The acro duo don’t seem sure of each other’s grip in the floor routine, but are more confident on the double silks. The dance choreography is simple and works with symmetry and sometime-synchronicity, but overall I would prefer to see more precision in the performers’ work.
There are many aural and visual treats within this show but, as a whole, I don’t know where it’s focus lies. I do know that the lighting designer deserves an award for some breathtaking displays.