Scotland on Sunday article for Droopy Met Hal,
WAITING FOR THE RUSHES by Mark Fisher
IF YOU were to search for an experimental theatre company in Scotland, you'd be unlikely to start in rural Aberdeenshire. Whatever you'd expect to find on the road from Aberdeen to Elgin, an organisation specialising in dance-theatre-film crossovers would probably not be high on your list. Yet for the past five years, the town of Huntly has been home to Dudendance, led by the enterprising Clea Wallis and Paul Rous, who started out as painters and moved into dance before deciding that what really pushed their buttons was physical theatre - with a heavy dollop of film.
Operating out of Glasgow since 1986, they are not the sort of people to let artificial barriers stand in their way. After being invited by Huntly's Deveron Arts to be dancers in residence in 2001, they took root in the town where, every summer, they create a site-specific performance and run a film school for young people. Meanwhile, they fuel their creativity by collaborating with artists in Germany, Belgium, Canada, Brazil and Argentina. Dudendance don't do borders. "We work in rural Aberdeenshire with the kids, but usually we go away for three months of the year," says Wallis, speaking from Potsdam where she is editing the film for the company's latest show, Droopy Met Hal, which opens this week at the Traverse in Edinburgh. "It's interesting to see what happens when you put things in other contexts and watch how the audience reacts. In Germany, they're quite inquisitive and analytical, and that's challenging. In Huntly we rehearse in the pensioners' social club. Nobody sees us. We're in a world of our own. Then we come here and we're completely exposed. It makes you have to communicate about what you're doing. It's healthy to come back to Scotland with that experience."
Like much of the company's work, Droopy Met Hal is a collaboration. Wallis and Rous have teamed up with Sven Till, co-director of Germany's Fabrik Potsdam, a dance company with an equally international outlook. Without Fabrik, there would be no Aurora Nova, the award-winning international dance and physical theatre venue on the Edinburgh Fringe. Without Till, there would have been no Fringe Firsts for Fallen, Pandora 88 and Hopeless Games. Brought together by Scottish producer Jean Cameron, Till, Wallis and Rous began working on Droopy Met Hal last year, presenting an early version at Arches Live in Glasgow. It's a Beckettian show about two men waiting for the arrival of a woman, perhaps a Hollywood starlet, in a decrepit old house. Like Godot, she never arrives, so the two pass the time by imagining how they will behave when she gets there in a series of role-plays. "What happens to the lady is ambiguous," says Wallis. "They might have killed her, she might have killed herself or she might not be there at all."
Containing elements of vaudeville, Beauty And The Beast, Sunset Boulevard, King Kong and Buster Keaton, it's a surreal melange of slapstick and original film footage. "The film is like a dream inside the piece," she says. "It's a parallel world. The show is inspired by the Deep South in the 1930s, films such as Stormy Weather, Gone with the Wind and Louis Armstrong music."
For Till, who programmed the show to open Fabrik's new building in April, teaming up with Dudendance has opened him up to different ways of working. "It was interesting for me to see their different physicality and different theatrical approach, especially this cinematic way of working," he says. "Not only do they involve film, but also their stories and characters are more cinema-like. It was something new for me. Their work is process-orientated, always alive; it's like floating."
Using sepia footage taken in Aberdeenshire forests and Brandenburg's Gross Leuthen castle, the show has been continually evolving, developing a tighter narrative structure and taking on new filmic elements at each stage of its development. "It's an ongoing process," agrees Wallis, who keeps editing until the very last minute, even manipulating the film during the performance so that at various points on its upcoming tour, which takes in Glasgow and Aberdeen, the audience will be treated to a slightly different theatrical experience. "We were invited to do a site-specific version of the piece in this castle in the forest near Potsdam, and because we'd just finished our summer school with the kids in Huntly, we thought we'd bring some of them with us. It was great - we did it in all the different rooms of the house, which meant we could spend a day filming in the house and that footage will be seen in the production in Scotland. “
The advantage of international collaboration, she says, is not just in the artists they meet, but also the places they end up. "We rehearsed some of this piece in Huntly and then filmed some of it in the woods in Huntly, and then we were inspired by the Gross Leuthen castle," she says. "Artistically, the places have influenced what we've produced."
Droopy Met Hal, October 6-7, Traverse, Edinburgh, and on tour until November and returning in 2008