Dance / “Red”, Liz Lea and PRIME dancers, Dancebase, Edinburgh, August 16-28. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.
REVISITING Liz Lea’s “RED” at the Edinburgh Fringe provide a welcome opportunity to see just how far she’s taken the show.
The dance work deals with Lea’s own personal struggles with the condition of endometriosis, so that the colour red can stand for everything from menstrual blood to the universal female figure, “The Lady in Red” captured in Chris de Burgh’s famous pop song, which forms the centre of the show.
Endometriosis might not sound like the subject for a nice night out and this may help explain the modest audience, although talk is that the Fringe has grown too big for itself, with excessive competition leading to such small houses everywhere – a pity, because this production is at one level pure showbiz, suitable for a large venue.
Lea is first and foremost an entertainer, with a background as a hoofer and a classical training in both Western and Indian traditions, meaning that hilarity mingles with moments of exquisitely refined beauty.
Using an eclectic line up of backing music – everything from grand opera to the Rolling Stones and Ricky Martin, she uses the occasion to perform a lot of dance jokes involving fan-dancing, bumps and grinds – nothing is sacred.
Elements of the showgirl emerge when she tells us of standing on the London stage stark naked as a nymph in Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice”, but then immediately we see that her moment of womanly power is undercut by the fact that, lurking in her nether regions, was Hades itself in the form of the condition that would see years spent in agony and under the knife.
Despite her operations, Lea is still physically agile, although she tells us there are certain moves, like the balletic “jeté” that she can no longer perform.
But from the outset, both up-close and on the upstage moving projections filmed by Nino Tamburri in front of magnificent Australian ocean and forest scenes, she and her dance alter-ego execute high kicks and other demanding dance moves that demonstrate the particular challenge of endometriosis for a dancer.
Adopting a variable narrative perspective, she addresses the audience directly to tell us of her experiences and operations, but then there is the disembodied, clinical voice of her surgeon recounting in a monotone voice the technical details of operations – he’s the one who suggested to her that she should go out and “get laid”.
Such clinical rigidity (although later we see the human side to the doctor) is directly contrasted with the personal narration. Self-deprecation and humour are Lea’s stock-in-trade and after executing one excruciating dance sequence, she rushes off-stage then returns wearing a pair of incontinence panties decorated with sequins – a nice touch.
Just as in Canberra she was able to engage the help of the GOLD dance troupe, in Edinburgh, through Dancebase, she was able to source a collective of mature-age dancers working under the stage name, PRIME.
These sassy, agile seniors supported Lea in a magnificent central sequence where she appears as the fully pregnant mother goddess she was never to be. That turns out to have been a codeine-infused fantasy.
This is a sophisticated and totally entertaining take on a medical condition that until a few years ago was not talked about.
In the final moments of the show, Lea adds grandeur to her condition, with Gluck’s aria, “Che Faro Senza Euridice” playing in the background but, cyclical in structure, the show ends where it began, with her first words to her surgeon: “I thought I could have it all”. But she couldn’t, as the show reveals.
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