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Prague Fringe 2012


Nervous Doll Dancing

Genre: Musical Theatre

Venue: Malostranská Beseda


Low Down

Welcome to a dream world of mesmerizing music and strange floating images, held together by a single silent performer dressed like a forlorn doll. It’s a minimalist creation – don’t expect singing, piano or guitar – all the music is created by cello, but it doesn’t lack variety or depth for that, Eidolon gets inside you, drawing unreal shapes before your eyes.


Nervous Doll Dancing is a solo project by Melbourne-based cellist Francesca Mountfort that started in Wellington, New Zealand in 2002 and won the NZ Fringe Award for Best in Music in 2003 with an eclectic show incorporating shadow puppetry, film and dance to her original live music. For this year’s Prague Fringe Festival, Francesca is bringing a new musical performance featuring original film, illustration and animation with live music from her latest album, Eidolon, released in April 2012.

The ‘Nervous Doll’ steps on stage to the sound of ticking clocks amid projected images of cogs and turning wheels. The effect is strange as she doesn’t say anything to introduce herself or make any gesture to acknowledge the audience, she simply sits and starts adjusting her instrument. It felt a bit like a false start, the crowd seemed unsure whether the show had begun or not. But as soon as the first notes were struck, rich and suggestive, yet harmonically ambiguous, it was clear we were entering an unknown world.

As images of dolls, flowers and insects floated across the stage, a well of music built up, cello upon layers of cello, fountain-like, growing out of its own flow of sound only to be emerged back into the stream. It’s difficult to describe precisely how it sounds, many emotions are touched upon fleetingly, seeming to take shape, but never clearly enough to isolate them. Overall, the effect is haunting, sad at times, sometimes uplifting, and always with a sense of probing into darkness.

The musicianship is outstanding, it’s no surprise to read that Francesca has an impressive CV, studying cello with Rolf Gjelsten from the New Zealand String Quartet and with David Chickering, principal cellist of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. This background has left an imprint in her performance, there are touches of Bach’s solo cello suites at times, although the music doesn’t feel ‘classical’ in the traditional sense of the word, it’s perhaps most suggestive of modern alternative acts like Sigur Rós at their most abstract.

Perhaps the show is too abstract, without any lyrics or speaking between the individual pieces, we are left unguided with a wealth of musical ideas that are difficult to pin down, and free-floating projections that ask more questions than they answer. Even just telling us the name of each piece would at least give us a clue to work with. 

For me, this freedom to follow my own path through the music was a fantastic experience, but I had to concentrate to keep the journey going. I detected some listeners around me beginning to lose their concentration as the show progressed, with the coughing, whispering and glancing around the room increasing. 

Perhaps some talking between pieces or a more focused visual element to accompany the music, would help to break up a sound world that risks becoming monotonous as it only contains cello. The risk is richly rewarded however, in a dream that tantalizes all the more for the fleeting nature of the pictures it paints. Once you hear Eidolon, you’ll need to hear it again, other music starts to feel all too obvious.