Oct 9 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩     Hugger’s delight

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh Wed 8 – Sat 11 October 2014

Taking its audience deep into the Botanics at night time, Embrace delivers a multi-artform experience with interesting but uneven results.

Magical Flower Listening Posts. Photo Daniel Lacasta Fitzsimmons

Magical Flower Listening Posts. Photo: Daniel Lacasta Fitzsimmons

Built around the ideas of personal resistance to environmental destruction, Embrace draws its inspiration from the original tree hugger Amrita Devi, a Rajasthani villager who tried to stop her forest being felled in 1730.

Embrace is an adventure into the dark, with the audience discovering that they are visitors to an “encampment of issues” – a sort of Occupy camp, but in the woods not the pavement – constructed along the principles laid down by a certain Meg Anderson who, we are told, saw the true costs of environmental destruction in a spiritual revelation.

Sound installations allow you to eavesdrop on earnest conversations being held in a row of a dozen tents, conversations about saving bees and the hidden costs of cheap clothing.

dashes around the Garden’s dark paths

Later, in a garden of magical flowers, short biographies are heard of inspiring individuals whose small efforts of resistance made large changes.

Between the two, Embrace dashes around the Garden’s dark paths, between sweetly-scented bushes, sampling film, indian dance, silent disco and aerial sprites, led by the hugely enthusiastic Anna (the piece’s creator Kim Bergsagal).

Individually, the elements of the show work well. Robbie Thomson’s film, using shadow puppets to tell Amrita Devi’s story, has just the right level of childlike naivety for its gruesome message – she was beheaded along with 363 of her fellow villagers, although the Maharaja of Jodhpur, at whose behest the killings were carried out as he wanted to build a new palace, ultimately repented.

Kirsten Newell. Photo: Daniel Lacasta Fitzsimmons

Kirsten Newell. Photo: Daniel Lacasta Fitzsimmons

Kirsten Newell provides a tantalising glimpse of traditional Indian danc, of a kind which has its own roots in the same movements and features, such as ankle bells, that are at the origins of a hugely diverse range of dances from Flamenco to Morris dancing and even tap.

The aerial work, with a pair of aerialists (Danuta Ramos and Rachael Macintyre) in UV paint, being born out of silk-like pods, dangling from a tree, is inventive too. Although, like much outdoor, tree-based aerial work, is not as spectacular as you think it is going to be. Rather, this is about creating a moment of reflection.

Only the silent disco element, when the audience put on wireless headphones and listen to exhortations about the invasiveness of technology, doesn’t really work as it might. Partly because it is too hurried.

In terms of getting a message across, this is very much affirmative theatre. Meg Anderson’s bonne mots which Anna finds left around the garden, are wise but largely truisms.

Technically, as a piece of semi-immersive theatre, the conceit that the audience has come to stay at the camp, but must run off into the woods when the police raid it, is too flimsy to work. And the company need to pay more attention to moving their audience about the space.

What it does do, however, is remind us that beyond the ethnic cleansing and removal of whole layers of indigenous people by drawing them up into the mass of humanity, there is cultural cleansing going on too.

In the rush for homogenisation, of turning everything into a product which can be bought, the brilliant, beautiful diversity of our world of unique communities is being lost.

And it is not just being lost in exotic, distant places: it is being lost from all around us. And it is for that meditation, as much as for its message that all actions count and for its art, that Embrace is very much worth seeing.

Running time: 90 mins (including a break for Chai Massala)
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, North Gate, Inverleith Place EH3 5QB
Run ends Saturday 11 October 2014
Daily: 7.30pm, 8pm, 8.45pm
To book go to: www.visionmechanicsembrace.eventbrite.co.uk

On Tour:
Falkland Centre for Stewardship, Fife
Thursday 16 – Saturday 18 October 2014
Daily: 7.30pm, 8pm, 8.30pm
To book go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/embrace-tickets-12271138305

Numbers limited.  Not suitable for children under 8.
Further details on Vision Mechanics website: www.visionmechanics.org  or tel 0131 554 8923


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