Edinburgh fringe dance: Baby Paradise; Sky Labyrinths, Eowyn Emerald; Dep – review


Dance is in demand at this year’s Edinburgh festival fringe, with queues forming on wet pavements an hour before hot-ticket events. With ample opportunity for fans to compare notes, word of mouth remains the essential ingredient of a show’s success on the fringe, particularly a smaller show. They don’t get much smaller than Baby Paradise (C Royale), which plays in a space hosting, at most, 20 spectators. But Anna Valeska Pohl’s solo piece packs a mighty punch.

Baby Paradise is a prostitute, working from a tiny, pink-lit room filled with Barbie dolls, many partially dismembered. The dolls all have names – Star, Vanilla, Honey – and act as her proxies. She pimps them out, and we become her customers. “You can really have a girlfriend experience,” she says, as she selects a doll for each of us. “Sugar is very compliant. Anyone want to smell Sugar’s pants?”

Pohl has perfected the physical language of the emotionally numbed sex worker. The narcotised languor, the pastiche femininity, the bored hair-tossing. She’s never quite still; there’s always some micro-choreography of preening and self-touching. At intervals she delivers responses into a sex-line phone. “I’m just wearing underpants, Daddy.”

Threaded through these scenarios are references to Greek mythology. There’s a single male doll, the persistently masturbating Hades, who abducts the uncompliant and rebellious Persephone, and carries her away to the underworld. There could be no clearer parallel with the plight of the trafficked Baby, consigned to her twilit and morally inverted realm. “When I’m grabbed by the pussy I tell myself it’s a compliment,” she affirms. “It’s what women want.”

This is an intense and deeply unsettling work, and at least a third of the audience leave at different points. But Pohl doesn’t let up, mercilessly tightening the net of our complicity. “You want to touch Vanilla’s butt? No, you’re just a voyeur? That’s OK.” Ever anxious to please, she pins doll body parts to a clothes line. “This is Medusa’s head. She’s pretty, isn’t she. Take a look.”

Sky Labyrinths (Greenside, Infirmary Street), by Alyona Ageeva Physical Theatre PosleSlov, is an oddity. A mystical piece, with choreography devised by the five dancers, all Russian, it features an expressionistic male-female duet, two nude and passive female attendants, and a guy in a cowboy hat and sunglasses. If cryptic, and bracingly old-school in its presentation of gender, the work was presented with such charm and sincerity that it won over a tough audience. Eowyn Emerald and Dancers (Greenside, Royal Terrace) also delivered a crowd-pleasing programme. Emerald’s work is fluent, easy-watching and neoclassical. No surprises, but a seamless display of craft.



Dep by Van Huynh Company. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Dam Van Huynh’s Dep (Zoo, Southside) was inspired by Vietnamese rituals for the dead. Set to an unobtrusive but haunting score by Martyna Poznańska, and performed by four men and two women, all nude throughout, the piece tracks the process of loss. The dancers lurch off balance and collapse like sheds, poleaxed by grief. They effortfully reanimate each other. It’s a raw process; Van Huynh’s roiling, sweaty bodies are as actual as they are metaphorical. We, and the dancers, are forcefully confronted with our frailty, but also, ultimately, with our capacity for regeneration. Life goes on.

Star ratings (out of 5)
Baby Paradise ★★★★★
Sky Labyrinths ★★★
Eowyn Emerald and Dancers ★★★
Dep ★★★★

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