Edinburgh International Festival: Alan Cumming on reviving Robert Burns in his new dance show

Alan Cumming stars as Scotland’s most celebrated poet, Robert Burns, in the new dance and theater show Burn at the King’s Theater during the Edinburgh International Festival. Image: Jane Blarlow/PA Wire

But Alan Cumming says the prospect of launching a new show in town leaves him just as terrified as his debut nearly 40 years ago.

The Hollywood and Broadway star has turned years of research into the life of the Scottish cultural icon into a new dance and theater production that is the centerpiece of the Edinburgh International Festival’s launch weekend.

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The origins of the show, which runs at the King’s Theater until August 10, come from two different directions: a growing interest in Burns’s life that he developed after reading a biography that explored his darker side, and a desire to keep dancing after last appearing in Cabaret at the age of 50.

Alan Cumming stars as Scotland’s most celebrated poet, Robert Burns, in the new dance and theater show Burn at the King’s Theater during the Edinburgh International Festival. Image: Jane Blarlow/PA Wire

Perthshire-born Cumming, who was inspired by collections of letters written by the 18th-century poet, said: “Burns is all around us in Scotland and he’s such a part of our lives that you just stop thinking about him.

“I started reading about Burns and gradually felt there was more to him than the cookie-tin image we have of him.

“I spent years reading about him, now I’m a bit of an expert on Robert Burns. I’m a bit obsessed.

“There was more fragility to him and he was more disturbed than people think. It talks a lot about him being grieving and tormented. I just find it fascinating.”

Alan Cumming stars as Scotland’s most celebrated poet, Robert Burns, in the new dance and theater show Burn at the King’s Theater during the Edinburgh International Festival. Image: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Burn will explore Burns’ mental health, troubled personal life and financial struggles, despite prolific talent and success.

Cumming, now 57, said: “He’s still all these things that we think of him and he was like a rock star of his time, but like a lot of rock stars, he has a darker side.

“All these horrible things happened to him. He had such a hard and tragic life: 10 years after his first big collection of poems was published, he was dead.”

“One of the things I didn’t realize was that, as well as publishing his own work, he collected, collated and edited all these traditional Scottish songs he didn’t write. We wouldn’t have them to sing now.”

Alan Cumming stars as Scotland’s most celebrated poet, Robert Burns, in the new dance and theater show Burn at the King’s Theater during the Edinburgh International Festival. Image: Jane Blarlow/PA Wire

Cumming’s festival-city roots go back to 1984 when he found fame with Forbes Masson as the Victor and Barry cabaret act the pair had formed while studying at the then Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama two years earlier.

His shows became a firm favorite for several years on the Fringe and would launch Cumming’s career in film, television and on stage, which saw him win Tony and Olivier Awards and award nominations. Emmy, Golden Globe and Grammy.

Burn is a new solo piece that Cumming has created with Olivier Award-winning choreographer Steven Hoggett and Edinburgh-born musician and composer Anna Meredith, another EIF favourite.

It is the latest in a series of festival appearances in the city since Cumming made a long-awaited return to the Scottish stage in 2007 when he starred in The Bacchae at the King’s as part of the EIF.

He said: “With the things that I do myself, I tend to act more and more on my own. I’ve always said that I really love my job and I really love the people I work with, but I think actors en masse are a bit annoying.

“I don’t date actors in my non-work life. They just talk about work all the time and it’s boring for me. It’s not that I don’t like actors, but dating a big group of them isn’t.” My favorite thing.

“The biggest art festival in the world is in your country’s capital, it feels like a great place to be creative and challenge yourself.

“With all the stuff I’ve done at the festival it always feels like ‘shit, this is terrifying.’ With Victor and Barry, the show was invented in our kitchen. We were walking and we didn’t know if we would remember all the words of a song. You just get over it. In fact, we made a virtue of our failures and mistakes.”

Burn, which will be one of the last before the redevelopment of the King’s Theatre, will see Cumming reunite with the National Theater of Scotland, which will take the production on tour in Scotland before a run at the Joyce Theater in New York City.

He said: “When I came back to do The Bacchae it was terrifying and this show is crazy. It’s incredibly physically demanding for anyone, let alone someone in their late 60s.

“I feel like I’ve always wanted to be a dancer, which I’ve done quite a bit over the years, but never anything like this show.

“I was 50 years old when I finished Cabaret on Broadway the last time. It felt terrible that I wasn’t going to be as fit again and that my body wasn’t going to be asked to do something like that again.

“I wanted to do something else related to dance, even though I didn’t have this show in mind at the time.

“I’m not a conventional dancer. I’m not as good at it as anyone else. Obviously I can move and dance, but just like the other things I do in my life, I do it my way.”

Source: www.scotsman.com