Ballet Freedom review – slapstick, generic dance cabaret

The Guardian - Sat Aug 6 11:30

There is plenty of sex at the fringe. Late-night burlesque or drag stars that titillate their audience can be found in abundance in Edinburgh’s eclectic venues. Lots of alternatives to Ballet Freedom, then.

This show from the Ukrainian dance company Freedom Ballet is an adaptation of a previous one entitled Boudoir. Whether the show would even make it to Edinburgh had been in question: the male cast members were given special dispensation from Ukraine’s minister of culture to travel to the festival at a time when most men have been banned from leaving the country.

The opening set for Ballet Freedom features a large wardrobe surrounded by empty tables and wooden chairs: we’re backstage somewhere, perhaps. The performers enter from the side of the auditorium, in what proves to be the most artistically interesting part of the evening, dressed in stylish red-velvet waiting outfits and performing some cheeky synchronised hip wiggles. What follows is a mush of interactions between the gang, who mainly want to sleep with or punch each other.

The show has no tangible storyline, not compensated for by a series of vague vignettes, which overlap from bar scene, shower scene, train scene to another sex scene. There’s little crafted exploration in each set-up, more first-draft humour (men dressed in skirts = funny). The humour is crude and often involves a lazy slapstick violence.

Despite the dancers’ admirable commitment, including some bold attempts to engage the audience in a dance, the choreography lacks a cohesive style; it feels more like generic filler for background dancers rather than the main event. The soundtrack is a mess – we veer from Ravel’s Boléro to contemporary pop to the Belleville Rendez-Vous soundtrack. By the time a final scene involving feathers and aroused squawks arrives, you can clock out.

Ballet Freedom opens intriguingly and ends rather poignantly, with the performers being delicately put back in their wardrobe, ready for the next performance and cheered on by a very supportive audience. What happens in between these two moments is disappointing.