Fringe Dance: They’re salts of the earth


Islands in the Stream

Aurora Nova @St Stephen's, 0131 558 3853, until August 25

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Last year, in La Divina Commedia, the award-winning Derevo spun fantastical images of Hell, Heaven, and the wasteland-limbo that stretched out between them. Black, gold, red were the signature colours of a hectic, revolving extravaganza that travelled from the pits of tortured despair to a final, exquisite redemption. But, as anyone familiar with the Russian company's past triumphs will already know, Derevo - led by Anton Adassinski - doesn't care to repeat itself.

So this year Islands in the Stream favours a whiter shade of pale. But don't be fooled: though this piece has a great deal of poetic delicacy and gentle, whimsical comedy in its make-up, there is a dark and unsettling current of loss and destruction running steadily below the surface.

At first, it seems as if - after the technical intricacies of Divina Commedia - this show has majored on simplicity. The stage is open, unadorned, framed by swoops of taut black cloth that resemble sails, or maybe sharks' fins. And that's a kind of clue: you really have to use your eyes here.

There are no words in this production. But there are stories. Salty tales of the sea, peppered with a sense of danger and mystery - but also spangled with romance and sheer silliness. As the lighting dapples and the soundscore swells, the space becomes a universal ocean. Teensy little ships pass to and fro across its horizons.

Sailors, freshly-pressed in uniform white, battle hilariously with unseen, raging elements - then fall foul of that girl in every port who has marriage and a land-locked togetherness in mind. A lone figure, in a sea-coat, stirs up the waves and the memories, rather like Prospero in The Tempest. And, as in the Shakespeare, there is an uglier side to the seeming idyll: an underwater realm of lurking creatures in puffa-jackets and big boots on whom the sun never shines - but pollution surely falls.

Bit by bit, the jigsaw of succinct images and emblems comes together to create not just an evocation of the sea in various moods, but a pointed statement about the environment and man's responsibility to safeguard it. Words finally do sum up this concern, but everything else is conveyed through the virtuoso physicality of the four performers who clown, dance, and mime their way through copious visual jokes and fragments of dream-like beauty. Of course, like the sea itself, a Derevo show is never still, ever-changing - you may have to go back, just to check.

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