Edinburgh Fringe 2022: Dreams of the Small Gods at Summerhall
Dreamed up and performed by Scottish artist Zinnia Oberski, Dreams of the Small Gods is a feat of the human body and the mind. The show, which began as an assignment for Oberski’s time at the Academy for Circus and Performance Art in the Netherlands, has subsequently been developed into the 50-minute performance that is being showcased at the Fringe. As a “wild circus artist”, Oberski delivers on both the wildness and the circus elements in this production, which is a combination of performance art and trapeze.
When the performance begins, Oberski as the Wild Woman, hangs upside down from a trapeze in near-total darkness, her only company the large shadows on the walls. She is naked and a mass of dark hair covers her face. The dirt on the floor and the jungle sounds that play softly in the background further contribute to the sense of her isolation from human society. As the Wild Woman begins to move, propelling herself onto her trapeze bar in an unbelievably fluid motion, the lines between her humanity and animalistic tendencies are blurred.
The decision to perform naked highlights the Wild Woman’s humanity, as viewers come face-to-face with the body in its purest form. Yet the intentionally uncertain nature of her movements, as well as the decision to keep her face covered for the first half of the show, speak to the Wild Woman’s discomfort in herself and her own humanity. However, this all changes when she encounters the skull of a horned animal that descends from the ceiling, implying it may in fact be descending from another world. As she takes on and experiments with the identity of the creature, she ultimately learns to enter another existence: that of her true self.
Oberski’s skill renders her trapeze performance utterly remarkable. She executes tasks requiring incredible bodily strength in a way that makes them appear effortless. The show features no dialogue, and thus its capacity to inspire comes nearly entirely down to the artist’s physicality. Also contributing to the mystical atmosphere is the sound design by Chris Gorman and lighting by Ian “Cookie” Brooks. The murky lighting and eerie, otherworldly sounds that accompany the Wild Woman’s metamorphosis help to immerse viewers entirely in her world.
While it may initially seem like a fun bit of circus art, and while the aerial trapeze element is indeed remarkable, Dreams of the Small Gods is more than just physical theatre. It is primarily a show about transformation, as the Wild Woman learns to embrace the animal, human and spiritual elements of herself. It speaks to the challenges of finding one’s own identity and especially to the difficulty of bringing together the parts of the self that may seem disparate.
Dreams of the Small Gods is at Summerhall from 23rd August until 28th August 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
For further information about Edinburgh Fringe 2022 visit the festival website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: