“A visual feast”
I have seen many spectacular aerial displays over the years, from companies all over the world, and with their latest work, LoopsEnd, Edinburgh and LA based Paper Doll Militia is definitely right up there with the best of them in terms of risk, precision and wow-factor. However, while technically the gymnastics were great, I was a bit disappointed by the overall cohesion of the work.
A performance in two parts, the first half, Ashes, was inspired by the tearing down of an industrial estate where the group used to rehearse. The main visual element of the piece was two long ropes hanging from the rigging, twisted and weighted down with bags of powder. Even watching the ropes untwist and retwist in the empty space was graceful and compelling, and when combined with George Tarbuck’s stunning lighting design and the trademark tricks and treats of a seasoned aerial company, this piece was, at times, nothing short of a visual feast.
Throughout the performance, white powder was used in various ways to represent the “ashes” – one performer literally had a pile on his shoulders in the opening sequence, while the closing image was of the two bags attached to the hanging ropes slowly emptying as the ropes swung in the space. These individual instances were very powerful visually, but it was difficult to see the link between these, and any sort of narrative or progression within the piece. Indeed, many of the “theatrical” devices seemed under-developed and incomplete: there were too many moments of clichéd wide-eyed wonder and writhing around in angst, and at one point one performer walked back and forward many times, overtly undecided about whether to touch the rope. Such basic and overused devices unfortunately offset the splendorous vision of the other sections.
In the second piece, Unhinged XY, projection was also used, which in some ways added another dimension to the visual smorgasbaord, but in others gave a seemingly unnecessary layer of complexity and confusion to the action – again, it often wasn’t clear how the costumes, music, acrobatics, projections and design all married up.
The aerial silk work in this piece, and the use of wind and fabric combined to make some stunning visuals and standout moments. When one performer walked up a hanging piece of silk, weighted at the bottom by another, while competing with gusts around her, I was awestruck by the strength and artistry on show.
It was a bit of a shame that both pieces relied quite so heavily on overpowering recorded sound and music. While at some points it was great in setting and supporting the overall tone of each section, its constant use meant the work was unable to establish a mood for itself, so I would have preferred a more selective and sensitive approach to the aural aspects of the performance.
Overall, there’s no denying the talent and visual creativity that have earned Paper Doll Militia their excellent reputation. However, LoopsEnd left me somewhat hanging in mid-air, rather than applauding with my feet flat on the ground.
Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 2 February)
Go to Paper Doll Militia
Visit Edinburgh49‘s Traverse archive.