What’s in a name? For Slanjayvah Danza, everything. The Scottish company’s name is the perfect descriptor for the type of work it produces. Slanjayvah is a personalized phonetic spelling of the Gaelic Slàinte mhath, meaning “a toast to your good health.” And Danza is the Spanish word for “dance.” The bilingual name is a fairly evident reference to the company’s penchant for fusion, and as it says on its Web site, a celebration of “cultural exchange, communication and friendships through dance, music, song and storytelling, pushing boundaries in the TRAD and folk arts by situating them within a contemporary context.”
Slanjayvah Danza presented their 40-minute performance 6 Feet, 3 Shoes as part of Dance Base’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival lineup between August 2 – 18. The show’s title gives us a clue as to its content, referring to the three dancers and three sets of shoes, which would seem to reference three different styles of dance, but the only two distinguishable styles are Scottish traditional dance and flamenco.
Storytelling predominates in the piece, as the three dancers/characters sit around a round table sharing a bottle of wine as they recount how they met in Yorkshire, forming a friendship despite language barriers because they share dance. Again, confusion spills into the storytelling. Jen Wren, company founder, and her Scottish brogue make her nationality instantly clear. Leticia Cabezudo’s accent reveals she’s from Spain. But what about Charlotte Matthiessen? She barely utters a word throughout, and I think the audience is meant to assume she too is from Spain as no other country or nationality is mentioned, but who can be sure?
Wren later talks about going to Feria in Cordoba, Spain, a celebration common to Andalusia, littering an otherwise unimpressive story with all of the typical Spanish stereotypes about going out late and drinking a lot of beer. This transitions to an explanation about how people dance sevillanas at feria, and the audience is then shown a half-baked, very cold example of the dance. The men and women who attend feria and have been dancing sevillas since childhood could dance circles around what is exhibited on stage, not because they are more technically proficient, but because they dance with joy and flare.
Wren also talks about her grandmothers passing and about how she’d learned all of the ceilidh dances from her. The dancers again break into a Highland sword dance. I am not well versed in traditional Scottish dance, but I had the same feeling as with the sevillanas, there wasn’t much polish or vivacity.
There is a lot of merit to wanting to show the value of traditional dance and how it unites people and cultures, but to marry performance styles and genres successfully, you must be a master of that which you are fusing or pairing. In 6 Feet, 3 Shoes, Slanjayvah Danza comes off as a master of none. The choreography is simplistic, even amateurish, and with the live music, guitar and violin that oscillates between Scottish traditional to faux flamenco music, the production comes off like a cheap imitation of the real deal.