Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Ned (Aster), a horse-headed humanoid, is ensconced in the slobbish world of television and junk food. He is also obsessed with the tiger who sits across the room, starring motionlessly at him. The audience witness Ned make literal and metaphorical attempts at enlisting the tiger’s attention through bribery (in the form of milk and carrots) and dance.
Juliet Aster has created one of the most genuinely multi-media performances I have yet to come across. The performance is equally about the animation, music and sound bites as it is about the dancing. The animation features crude models of a horse and tiger engaged in similar activities as those on stage. However, in the animated world, the tiger is responsive and even occasionally part of a whole troop of marching or dancing tigers. It would seem that Aster is playing with the ideas of multi-layered consciousness and the tension between a fantasy and reality. The music alternates between electro-jazz, smooth drum and bass and hip-hop but remains high-volume and fast-tempo throughout.
Aster gives a superb performance. Her dance is heavily influence by flamenco and the occasional fast-paced foot stamping, reserved in traditional flamenco for expressing some emotion or emphasising a certain movement, becomes an accompaniment to the music which eerily fuses the horses-headed creature with the sound. Her performance is challenging and she maintains an impressive level of energy and focus throughout. However, the introductory dance to a drum and bass track went on for too long and lacked a narrative or theatrical introduction to anchor us down – it seemed as though we were waiting for the show to begin when actually it had already started. There could have been slightly more variety in Aster’s choreography; the musical progression from drum and bass to electro-jazz did not herald as much of a change in sentiment in movement that it might have.
The set is engaging; the horse’s corner is chaotic and littered with rubbish, each piece of which has some special value to Ned. Aster successfully incorporates surrealist humour, for example the bribe of the over flowing milk bowl. The disturbing scene in which Ned dances wildly with a kitchen knife made more than one of us visibly flinch. Sound bites from Brief Encounter (along with cookery programmes and newsreels) appear and reappear during the show until, in a creepy yet comic twist, Ned himself begins to embody the clipped and love-struck voice of Celia Johnson. The show ends with a prolonged animation of credits thanking many people and naming Aster herself as the performer, director, animator, producer and many other things; this was was unnecessarily long and somewhat ego-centric.
The Regretrospective is a seriously ambitious piece of theatre and Aster must be rewarded for her originality; it is refreshing to see genuinely experimental theatre attempted by such a talented individual. The show was too slow to lift off the ground at first and would benefit from a more memorable or varied beginning. At times the variety could have come from the choreography as oppose to the animation and, indeed, this did happen towards the end. The show is described as a “dance-theatre installation” and in many ways is more conceptual art than theatre. This is a show that is well worth seeing if you want to experience some thing new and exciting, however, it can occasionally seem unpolished and repetitive.