Ali and Alpo – Edinburgh Fringe

‘Ali and Alpo’ is an intellectually exciting but emotionally disengaging piece. It appears the performers were living their story so fiercely that they had little energy left to consider the art of storytelling. Two weeks before the show was to start at the Fringe, Ali Alawad’s Finnish asylum application was denied, and he fled Finland. Now, he performs through a live camera stream.

Alpo Aaltokoski opens the show with a good command of physical movement and Finnish contemporary dance. Each part of his body is utilized. His feet sweep the air like leaves. However, his movements appear improvised, and while this conveys his character’s uncertainty, the meanings of his physical choices appear too incohesive and banally usual. The tech is more inventive. A structure soon develops: during the Finnish dance sections, the lighting is a clinical white. Haze is impressively used to give the appearance of ice floating in the air like clouds, and in the background are low, eerie sounds, like blowing snow, wind, or cars.

Then Ali Alawad, with soft eyes and a lilting voice, comes onto the screen. The lighting turns yellow-orange. He cradles the oud lute and sings in Arabic, his voice breaking with emotion at the songs’ soaring peaks. Alpo displays an ability to transform himself: when the lute is not playing, he appears tortured, like a prisoner, and when it is, his movement is reminiscent of feminine middle eastern dance, with softly gyrating hips and graceful swirls of the arms into the air. His need for Ali’s music and culture is desperate and elemental.

However, Ali’s performance is very internal and it seems as though he is playing only to himself and Alpo. At one point when Ali is playing, Alpo stands forward and looks into the audience as though we are a cold mass, and then turns away. These are the sections that confirm my ambivalence about this piece. Near the end, Alpo leaves the stage and Ali plays the music and we watch. I sat there feeling not one bit of the emotion Alpo had just displayed.

What I took from this is that we are the ones who, in many ways, decide who gets to stay and leave in this country, yet we don’t feel a fraction of the emotion that immigrants feel on losing each other. We will not get to hear a lot of other people like Alpo play to us, or be involved in lots of other friendships like his and Ali’s.

It seemed like the show was intentionally distant and exclusive, to show us that we know hardly anything about other people’s relationships and that asylum processes we influence are emotionally distant. I have never before seen a seemingly intentionally boring show and felt as though the point is that they do not have a duty to entertain us. I feel that the idea that people should engage with dull things for the sake of morality is unsustainable and there needs to be a bit more vitality added in.


Ali and Alpo runs until the 25th of August – buy tickets here.

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James Sullivan

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