SHIFT, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice

Barely Methodical Troupe members Louis Gift, Esmeralda Nikolajeff, Elihu Vazquez and Charlie Wheeller​ are bound together by their reliance on each other to lift, and catch so that very little happens independently. SHIFT plays with balance, direction and suspension by adding an object to the ensemble that has the strength and flexibility to bear weight and change gravitational paths. A giant elastic band acts as a naughty fifth body and limb, changing up the choreography and providing endless opportunities for play and experimentation.

From standing one each other’s shoulders to sitting on someone’s back on all fours and making them crawl, the spectacle is combined with the comical in an endearing exploration of acro-balance. Nikolajeff challenges the fact that she is physically smaller than the rest of the troupe and plays her part as a base with the largest member as well as being thrown about like a bouncy ball.

The company also interpret existing acrobatic repertoire by putting their own inventive spin on things. Moments where they fall with straight bodies, or jump onto the shoulders of the others standing one, two and three people high delight audiences who gasp and hold their breath.

Breakdancing evolves to something far beyond hip-hop with head freezes, rotations, twists, cicis with no legs, windmills with no shoulders, all with a fluidity and sense of suspension that gives a material quality of elasticity.

It is particularly striking when one of the performers coin spin on a horizontal wheel with an arched back, facing up as opposed to the usual nose to the floor position. The team hold the wheel on the knees, back then shoulders as they raise its height, lifting the spiralling pathway of the figure tip toeing along it. Ensemble routines and two duets ebb and flow in and out of suspension, catching, falling, balancing and running with precariously balanced tableaux with bodies twirling and tumbling out of them constantly formed and reformed.

A few of the shorter sketches with the bands fall flat and aren’t necessary with so much content in the actual choreography. SHIFT works best in its routines, where tricks and movements are seamlessly worked into a stream of shifting bodies. This sophisticated meshing of movement allows the viewer to enjoy the work as a whole rather than trick after trick.

SHIFT runs until 25 August.

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