+3 Review: Countermeasure: 14 Characters (theSpace @ Surgeons Hall: 5-13 Aug: 17.30: 55mins)

“Beautifully layered harmonies”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The Fringe always seems to be a breeding ground for a capella groups: so many of them pop up from all over the place, and this year is no exception. My first (of I’m sure, many) this year is Countermeasure all the way from Canada. Dressed smartly in coordinating outfits and taking the stage like they mean business, they certainly look the professional outfit.

Overall their style is very modern, and, dare I say it, trendy, with lots of complex layering, mixing, and blending of tones. I was a little disappointed in the use of vocal looping for a couple of the songs – despite being recorded live, it slightly detracted from the power of pure unadulterated a capella of the rest of the show.

Most of the repertoire performed in 14 Characters I was unfamiliar with, which in some ways was nice as I got hear completely new songs, while I would have liked a couple more songs that I knew to really appreciate the group’s originality and quality of arrangement to suit their style. Under My Skin was given a very fresh and electro swing vibe, and All Aboard the A Train underwent a thoroughly modern makeover to accompany an original animation (shown on screen during the song).

In general, the group’s arrangements are quite electro and upbeat, and while this worked for many of their songs, I would have perhaps preferred a bit more variety to show the group’s depth. Midway through the set the male members of the choir were left alone on stage to sing Fox in the Field – a beautifully stripped back song with simple harmony and a real focus on the lyrics, and for me, this was the real highlight of the show. Later on, a slightly more traditional rendition of The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles gave a glimpse of different styles the group can turn their voices to, and this was a very enjoyable and intelligent song choice for their run in Edinburgh.

It’s not just the prepared and rehearsed numbers that Countermeasure excel at. Partway through the show they venture into the audience to find out more about who’s at their show, before constructing songs on the spot about what they’ve learned – impressive stuff. Add that to the substantial choreography the group deliver and this really is a show with everything.

Countermeasure are a very likeable group with great personality and beautifully layered harmonies, they deserve to do well in Edinburgh.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)


Vertical Influences (Assembly @ Murrayfield Ice Rink, 8 – 29 Aug : various times : 1hr 30 mins)

“The skating is spectacular”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Vertical Influences is an original contemporary dance piece on ice, developed and performed by five talented skaters who were probably kicked out of the Canadian Olympic team for being too cool. I’ll admit upfront: I’m not an ice-skating expert, so please forgive my ignorance of technical terms in describing this performance. I am, however, trained in contemporary dance, so this critique focuses purely on the “dance” aspect of the show.

What’s clear from the very beginning, and what is a real strength of this piece, is just how connected and in tune the dancers are to each other. From the opening sequence where the group “run” in big loops around the rink as though one body, to the smoother sections in the middle where they weave in and out of each other without even seeming to look at where the others are, it’s a very mesmerising performance.

The first half of the piece allows each dancer to show off their own personalities and style through solo sections. The dancers will do sequences around the rink in unison, and one will literally break away to do their own thing, before coming back to the group. The unison sections are very strong with every movement completely in synch, but some of the solo sections, although very physically impressive, did seem more improvised, and so form a stark contrast to to the clearly closely rehearsed group sections. There is a wonderful sense of playfulness between the dancers as they allow each other to go off and be different, safe in the knowledge that they will soon come back.

In the second half the routine is slightly more traditional in terms of choreography, with more unison, canon, and recognisable structures. For this the audience sits in special seats at one end of the ice, and because we are that much closer to the action, it seems much more daring, as the skaters often skate directly towards the audience at terrifying speed, only to turn or stop at the absolute last second. The sense forward and back (a bit like a fashion runway) was very prominent, and the skaters use this to show the variety of ways they could travel towards (and away from) us, always in complete control. The weaving motif is used throughout to give congruence to the halves, but the second certainly feels more grown up, and, dare I say it, professional.

There’s no mistaking that this is very much a contemporary dance piece – there’s not a single sequin to be seen, no throwing of the girl into the air, and no jolly melodies to accompany forced smiles – anyone hoping for a Torvill and Dean bolero will be sadly disappointed. What music there is is quite harsh, mostly rhythm with little melody, and is quite hard to engage with. The piece overall is performed with little sense of spectacle or razzle-dazzle (although it is very tight) and doesn’t have much sense of narrative or development. Still, the skating is spectacular, even if the choreography might not be to everyone’s taste.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 23 August)

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