The 41st Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo delights an audience of tiny tots to seniors in dramatic, mass gatherings of highland dancers, pipes and drums with incredible circus acts at the Scotiabank Centre to July 5.
This year’s Royal International Tattoo starts with a dog who can see colour and ends with a massive, majestic, moving tribute to loved ones in service.
There is everything else inbetween – good choices, odd choices – in a crowd-pleasing, cast-of-thousands show that celebrates Nova Scotia’s Scottish culture with the skirl of hundreds of pipes and drums and dazzles with international circus acts, in particular The Human Flag duo whose amazing, muscular strength in pole gymnastics led a little boy near me to go, “Oh my!”
This year’s theme is The Power of Peace with a focus on D-Day in a moving montage with gritty black and white photographs and a section on the end of the Cold War and the tearing down of the Berlin wall. The German Air Force Band Erfurt enacts a drama of resistance and rejoicing. When President Reagan in a TV clip asks Gorbachev to tear down the wall, one can only think of Trump’s proposed Mexico/U.S. wall.
The Tattoo is usually a mix of thematically disconnected military and variety show acts. This year, however, Australia’s excellent, all-female Black Diamond Drill Dance Team references militarism in a jarring piece that is part military marching unit and part ladies, Broadway chorus line with dancers in glittering purple and black.
The team’s Act II piece is a very popular and brilliant, high-art, fan dance with orange feathers to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody – a musically radical song by the sexually radical Freddie Mercury.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Band from Tokyo band is a crowd favourite as it presents a drama of a beautiful female singer needing saving from a red-eyed monster who is defeated by a samurai warrior. The music is lovely with traditional drumming and singer Mariko Nakagawa hitting an excitingly high note. She reappears as a soloist for the finale.
The elegance of enchanting, balletic, Club Piruett dancers from Estonia is in sharp contrast to the rigid, highly disciplined, United States Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team. They need to be disciplined down to the second as their leader walks through a tunnel of slicing, bayoneted rifles.
The first act features two appearances by an absurd group of Gregorian black-hooded monks chanting traffic instructions. It’d be great if they’d reappeared as a running gag or at least had one more appearance. It was like a great joke left to wither.
However, there is a lot to fit into a fast-moving show that is two-and-a-half hours long and rooted in huge breathtaking displays of massed bands, choirs and highland dancers bathed in dramatic floods of light.
This year, a tribute to pipers and a look into their history is beautifully done and very moving.
The sombre notes of military history are offset by youthful performers in the children’s choir and Scotia Suzuki School of Music group and in the spectacular wheel gymnastics of the mixed-age Chicago Wheel Jam. This year the Nova Scotia Irish Dancers unveils an excellent junior troupe that is show-stopping.
Male soloist is Dartmouth-based opera singer Jon-Paul Décosse, featured in a robust performance in the Latin Fiesta number with visuals of ancient sculpture and a mysterious, spinning flower. The flower stands out as an odd choice in a generally excellent lighting and projection design.
The brief band performance of Verdi’s Aida set in Egypt seems out of place. It’d be nice if the Tattoo were to highlight other Nova Scotia history and culture — as it has done in the past — with a segment, of, for example, gospel music.
Everything Tattoo, including details on this year’s daily tattoo festival events, is online (https://www.nstattoo.ca/). It runs to July 5, 7 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees Friday and Saturday.