There is dance and there is Scottish Dance Theatre. Last year there was Fleur Darkin. This year there is Damien Jalet. We have have been transported from the Callanish Stones of the Outer Hebrides which inspired
Treat YAMA as if you were doing a meditation session or taking a gong bath, but keep your eyes open.
Yet there is a connection, as Damien Jalet explains. “When it came to creating the work I was moved by the respect towards the environment in Tohoku: it got me to realise that it’s a very recent thing that humanity has lost a sense of spiritual connection to nature as well as rituals. So when I came to Scotland, and I looked around at the scenery, especially the mountains, I felt connections with what I'd seen in Japan."
Fifty minutes is the running time for many shows at the Festival Fringe. At Zoo Southside it’s how long it takes every night for an experienced and fast-working crew to construct the polygonal, draped set (designed by Jim Hodges) for a performance that is only five minutes longer. It’s worth it. From the moment the mystical lighting feintly illuminates it, the wonder begins.
YAMA is more ritual movement than conventional dance. Forms emerge from within the structure as though summoned for an annual ceremony of prolonged transformation. The image of giving birth comes to the fore, yet these almost naked beings have full heads of hair that extend down their backs and over their faces. This is ceremony, and Jean Paul Lespagnard‘s costumes draw on pagan fertility rites with the horse-hair wigs of Balinese Theatre. The writhing of emergent forms and their almost grotesque interweaving and rolling continues larghissimo until finally after what must be an achingly long, contorted period they begin to rise, assume human form and ultimately become spiritual figures.
Even for a company that is never afraid to challenge our conceptions of dance, this work is groundbreaking. Inspired by the ascetic hermit tradition of the Japanese Yamabushi, the unrelenting physicality, precision and tension of this work is astounding. The mythological growth of YAMA is driven by the haunting pulses and energy in the minimalist sounds of “weird wave” duo, Winter Family.
This production is a new full length version of the piece premiered in Dundee in 2014 and it really should come with a warning and advice along the following lines. “You are going to have a new experience. Treat YAMA as if you were doing a meditation session or taking a gong bath, but keep your eyes open. Try to relax yourself before entering the theatre. Take deep breaths, hold them, exhale and slow your breathing. Clear your mind. Focus on the set, absorb the sounds and become part of the movement.” Now you too are Yamabushi: one of ‘those who lie on the mountain’.