Cromdale Hall, Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Edinburgh, UK; August 19, 2014

David Mead

Barrowland Ballet in 'Tiger Tale'.  Photo © Brian Hartey

Barrowland Ballet in ‘Tiger Tale’.
Photo © Brian Hartey

Most of us have been there. You are wending your way to a performance, but inside there’s that nagging feeling that you really are not going to like it, or it’s not going to be your ‘thing’. And sometimes you are so, so wrong.

So it proved with Glasgow-based Barrowland Ballet’s “Tiger Tale”. Co-created by Natasha Gilmore and Robert Alan Evans, it and its sister work “Tiger” present two takes on the same story, the first from a child’s point of view, the second from that of an adult. The works look at what happens when something ‘wild’ enters the life of a family; something that turns their happy existence upside down. That could be a child who turns out to be exceptionally talented at something, or maybe, just maybe, something really wild…like a tiger.

Each version of the story has just three dancers, the mother (Kai-wen Chuang), the father (Vince Virr) and the child (Jade Adamson). The only significant difference between the two is the lack of overt sexuality in “Tiger Tale”. In “Tiger” there is one rather excellent duet of a more adult nature.

The action all takes place in the round, inside Fred Pommerehn’s open-sided, metal-framed-set. The elastic strung between the supports makes it look like some giant 3-D spider’s web in which they are captive. It also enhances the feeling of being hemmed in. Above hang lots of silver metal buckets, that as the audience later discover mostly filled with oranges.

We see one troubled and disconnected family. They haven’t yet quite disintegrated, but all the usual love and feeling is missing. Formality is everywhere. The mother is obsessive in her desire for everything to be spotless and in its place. The daughter might try to break out from the monotony, but she’s soon put back in her place. When she daubs tiger stripes on her face, a sign of things to come, it’s only seconds before Mum’s spray cleaner and cloth put in an appearance. The father just seems cowed by it all. “Mum”, “morning” and “time for bed” are spoken blankly with zero feeling. Happiness and joy seem a million miles away.

The opening dance is as grey and expressionless as the costumes. And yet, there are hints at things to come. The daughter wears orange socks, and before long hints of orange appear in the father’s costume too. It’s all done rather subtlety, though. Those orange socks could be signs of a hint of rebellion, that she has a hankering for fun or maybe for something a little wild to happen. Before long, it does.

Vince Varr and Kai-wen Chuang in 'Tiger Tale'. Photo © Brian Hartley

Vince Varr and Kai-wen Chuang in ‘Tiger Tale’.
Photo © Brian Hartley

With those socks, you expect the daughter to become the tiger, so it’s a bit of a surprise when it turns out to be the father. Just to make sure you get it, he changes into a totally orange two-piece suit and adds some stripes with face-paint. Far from being scary, though, Varr’s tiger is of the charming variety. In “Tiger Tale”, the kids in the audience lapped up every second of his clambering through them and rubbing up against them.

The tiger can be seen as real, as I’m sure most children do, or as the other, hidden side of the father. Rather cleverly, and without making too many changes between the versions, Gilmore and Evans layer the choreography with meaning and references, in doing so managing very successfully to make both versions work at multiple levels. “Tiger Tale” may be advertised as essentially a children’s piece, but it appeals and resonates just as well with adults. Indeed, I saw the children’s version first and loved every minute of it, and found the portrayal of the family relationships and how they play out as the wildness intensifies quite fascinating and nuanced.

Whichever view of the father you prefer, his change certainly turns family life upside down. For a while, chaos reigns, reflected in some exciting, tumbling, athletic dance that all three attack with great gusto. It’s precise and it needs to be. Some of the moves are very ‘near miss’. At the end, when he has returned to normal, the family dynamic has changed. They have rediscovered life and each other. The message seems to be that sometimes, we might just need a tiger to make us remember the important things

Throughout both shows, the cast delivered the theme with humour and great skill. The music, much of which was played live on keyboard, electric violin and guitar by composer Kim Moore on compliments the action well.

And at the end of “Tiger Tale”, the audience were invited onto the set and allowed to dance and play with to play with the oranges and other props. They didn’t need asking twice! Everyone was also asked to roar, which they did with gusto. But why didn’t us grown-ups get that in our version too?

If either show comes near you, do go catch yourself a tiger. Do take the kids – just make sure you take your inner child too.