Warmed Air is a site-specific combination of dance and the arts which takes place in the Anatomical Museum in Edinburgh. The title refers to exhaled breath, warmer after the exchange of gases inside the lungs. It is an original idea and realised collaboratively and inclusively: Ruth Pollitt, who “likes old things” is the museum’s curator and plays the shawm (a sort of medieval oboe) in the show. Simon Anderson initiated the project with his interest in Antonin Artaud, somatic movement and psychophysical performance.
We are led into the Lecture Theatre where the sound of deep breathing fills the space as we sit up high looking down onto the podium. Here a specialist delivers a lecture about Indian sun gods, Maes Howe , e=mc2 and the science of the fixed firmament which unfortunately we cannot hear in its entirety. The dancers, dressed in yellow and red, pose arabesques, crawl and scramble over seats, dangerously perch, and pivot, cranium on wood.
The second section involves a tour into the museum itself, briefly hovering in front of Paul Michael Henry, situated between dinosaur skeletons, a living specimen behind a sheet of glass. This performer has a mannered intensity.
Thirdly, we move to a room full of display cases: bones, skulls (including a cast of Rabbie Burns exhumed for burial by his wife), and a body preserved in 1788 with flesh and sex organs. Here the four dancers alternate in presenting their solos, presumably their own personal responses to the general themes: writer and artist Laura Gonzalez with her neat feet – I liked her phrase “your soft architecture”); part-time lecturer at the Royal Conservatoire, Laura Bradshaw’s bone movement, sensual hand wringing and found words); and a misguided rewrite of The Cruel Mother.
There is so much material here, fascinating ideas seeking connections between disciplines. Like some conceptual art, it is intriguing on the page, but so far the ideas are more interesting than the exposition; the physical and verbal improvisation is too ambitious for the performers’ skills. There is great possibility. However, it is in need of tight direction, an outside eye which can contain the myriad influences and focus it. On a basic level someone is needed to stand in the audience and see if they can hear or see; on an artistic level to draw the strands together, eliminating the personal favourites if they don’t work for the good of the piece, thereby creating a coherent whole.