At a nod ofthe head the barman poured another pint of ‘eighty‘ and a vodka chaser for the guy sitting at the bar. Outside. grey rain descended in a relentless West Coast drizzle and a pair of defeated cyclists stopped for lunch. ‘Great cycling weather.‘ I remarked to the dripping. moustachioed man. ‘Sorry. I no speak Eenglish.‘ he replied.

Ask Frank McConnell why Applecross was his choice for the development ofa new dance theatre company. Plan B. and their first project. Sanctuary. and he spreads his hands. indicating the pervasive truth. Applecross is inspiring. Even in the rain. the broken coastline and its scraps of island roll out of the mist like promised lands. The village itself is a line ofwhite cottages tucked into an indentation in the Applecross peninsula: a great fist of land thrust into the Inner Sound and approachable only by the long coast road (opened in l976) or by the roller-coaster route over the 2()()() feet ofthe Bealach Na Ba.

‘Coming over the Bealach.l thought. this is going to be isolated. dour, hard. and it wasn't .‘ says McConnell. The company have lived harmoniously in Applecross for the past five weeks getting to know the place and its people. Everyone. it seemed. was crammed into the stifling village hall on opening night to see how outsiders had interpreted the life of their land. Ultimately. the most popular comment of the evening was from a local man who

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Julie Morrice hikes up to Applecross to find out what the wilds ofthe West Coast have to offer an intrepid young Scottish dance company.

disclosed that it was the first time he had ever seen a load of nonsense made to look so attractive.

Sanctuary is a frail. winsome piece. Against a paddy‘s market of bleached. half-lit flotsam. the five performers jigsaw together a metaphor for Scotland. Dancers and musicians. they glissade over their subject. calling up echoes from Grassic Gibbon to The Proclaimers but finding little new to say. At its best. Sanctuary swings neatly from speech to movement. highlighting unexpected qualities ofeach, like a lantern in a storm picking out strange shapes from familiar faces. But often the intertwining ofthe different disciplines seems to drain the life from one or both. leaving words sounding woodenly and dance gesturing dumbly.

In the close. friendly space of the Traverse. Sanctuary is a quite different show: ‘It will be much easier to perform in Edinburgh.‘ says McConnell up North, ‘Here we are performing for people who we have got to know. who have seen us arrive and learn things. who have told us stories. It‘s very difficult.’

A better expression, perhaps. of

the relationship which has sprouted

up between Applecross and Plan B came after the show, in the pub. Backs to the streaming darkness. the village crowded in as the company spun an endless reel ofsongs. music and impromptu dance routines. The cry went up from time to time for local talent to show itself. ‘It‘s a

shame,‘ said one. ‘Sean there is brilliant at the guitar. but he‘s too shy to play in public.‘

Hungover and pale the next morning. Frank McConnell met me to talk about the show. The story of Sanctuary is that of an oppressed people gradually learning to express their anger and sense of their own worth. and is a reflection of the current mood ofoptimism in Scottish artistic life after a long stasis. Phrases like ‘a return ofdignity’ and ‘no more cap-in-hand‘ peppered the company‘s talk of the driving force behind the contemporary dance movement in Scotland. They are. thinks McConnell. doing something quite unique in their melding of the different languages ofdance. music and drama. It is not easy. he admits. There is no established process for working in such a collaborative way, and time for this project has been tight. ‘The show is not perfect.’ he says. ‘but we should keep changing it. it should develop.’

Leaving Applecross dripping with resignation. I drove back through thick. wet mist over the Bealach. The waterlogged road slid across a ghostly white moonscape until silently. modestly. fingers offog crept back off the tops. and the mountains blazed into the sunlight. Scotland found her voice.

I Sanctuary (Fringe) Traverse Theatre (Venue 15) 2262633. Until 20 Aug at 7.45pm and 22—27 Aug at 10pm. £6 (£3-.

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The List 18 24 August 1989 5