STAGE REVIEW – GIFT Festival – Day Three (30.4.17) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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GIFT launched in Gateshead on 28th April, bringing exciting and innovative theatre to Gateshead. Here’s a look at some of what went on, on the final of the festival. You can read about day one here, and day two here.

To Suit by Lizzie J Klotz

To Suit, choreographed by Lizzie J. Klotz and performed by Charlie Dearnley and Alys North, is a well-worked and original exploration of the rituals of love and courtship, but seems to go beyond this too, exploring the intricate formalities and rituals of simply getting on with day to day tasks, or being in a room with someone else.

Using text, sound and improvisation, as well as dance, the piece nevertheless avoids crowding itself and feels satisfyingly simple, winding itself wonderfully around its own themes. With a mix of serious and silly play, the performers swap clothes during the piece, putting a lense on gender roles. I also got the sense, however, that perhaps the two performers had become iterations of one person; two sides of a personality.

An accompanying film after the live performance followed the same interaction filmed in a woodland as if it were a mating ritual between tropical birds. As with the live show, it was heart-lifting and joyfully beautiful.

Find out more, and watch the film here.

Durational With Tables

Immediately after To Suit I came out into the first floor foyer of Baltic to find a woman moving between and over several plain wooden Ikea tables, arranged in a stacked-jigsaw. This was Seven Tables by Gillian Dyson, a durational piece examining ‘the relationship between the female and domestic objects, and what the performance of these does to unsettle our understanding of the homely.’

Slow but mesmerising to begin with, Gillian de-assembled the table fort, and laid the tables out individually in the space, before covering six of them with white sheets and pouring a jug of water over another. This last event may not sound shocking out of context, but following the care and diligence with which the performer had laid out the rest of the space, almost slow-dancing with the tables, this act of apparent defiance, though performed with the same controlled quiet, seemed to brim with supressed anger and rebellion.

Further disruptive acts followed, with the result being a piece of work that felt like a window into a private and restrained breakdown in the face of expectations.

Though only an hour, the piece certainly earned its description as durational. Slow, steady and considered, it required patience and faith, but paid off brilliantly and felt immensely satisfying as a whole piece of work.

Part of a practice-based doctorate, the wider work continues. Find out more here.

O No!

O No! by Jamie Wood is a homage to Yoko Ono, and to love, in all its forms; transcendent, mundane, unifying and destructive. As we entered the space, Wood moved among us, resplendent in pink kimono, encouraging us to play the wind-chimes which hung from his fingers and ears. His speech, movements, dress and stage presence promised a performer who could carry wacky eccentricity. In short, for me, it was his to lose from very early on, which he very much didn’t.

What followed was a performance with sensational emotional range that brought me both to tears of laughter and actual tears. With a glint in his eye and tongue often in cheek, Jamie Wood sets up a series of rules early on, No using Jon Lennon’s death for emotional leverage. No autobiographical detours . . . most of which he’d already broken, throwing himself sporadically to the floor to the sound of gunfire or giving hilarious insights, fictional or otherwise, into the practical problems such world embracing, loving practices as vocal dawn meditation can have on a relationship.

Silliness was a constant throughout. But Jamie moved far further than that. Where does love get in the way? Where does it destroy? Where does it heal? These questions weren’t asked directly and the show was all the better for it; they were entirely implicit as Wood moved through a set of performance instructions left by Yoko herself. Reworking a series of her performance art pieces with joyfully relentless yet well-handled audience participation, the show built up towards Bag Piece, in which an audience member was invited to climb into a ‘bag’ or bedsheet with the performer. Obscured from the audience, they undressed entirely, re-dressed and had a conversation about love, led largely by the participant and prompted by the performer, which was one of the most stunning and vulnerable things I’ve seen, or I suppose more accurately heard, take place on stage.

Shortly after this, the show goes out with one more audience-participatory bang. It could possibly be said that the piece could do a little more to tie itself together at the end, but that doesn’t feel entirely accidental. O No! is both a whistlestop tour through zany madness and a meandering ponder at life, love and human relationships. These contrasting tones knit together beautifully in a sensory and stunning show.

Best of BE

The Birmingham European Festival (BE Festival) aims to turn conventional theatre on its head and bring an international flavour, so it feels like a natural companion to GIFT. On Sunday evening, we had their Best Of Collection, which did not disappoint.

The first of three pieces shown was Vacuum by Cie Philippe Saire, a dance company from Switzerland and ‘one of Europe’s leading exponents of experimental choreography.’ I’ll say. To be perfectly honest, describing this piece in any way that does it justice is going to be tricky;

The stage was blacked out, the only light coming from two horizontal strip lights framing an unseen puppet-box stage of sorts. One strip of light some four feet above the ground. The other some four feet above that. Shapes began to appear from the darkness, expanding like smoke into the light, before retreating again. The same shape, four times, appearing and disappearing. It began to look like a ghost. There was silence. Already, this was mesmerising. New shapes began to appear, the rhythm of their appearances and disappearances changing. Like spotting shapes in clouds, there seemed to be a skull, then a cat’s face, then a . . . no hang on, is that a rib cage? Is that a human rib cage? These were not objects being pushed through the portal, but bodies, with incredible strength and delicate poise.

The movements were precise, captivating, increasingly complicated within a structure that remained, throughout, sensationally simple. Two strips of light. Two bodies. And a bit of casual levitation. Perfect.

The next piece was similarly captivating for different reasons. Part theatre piece, part essay, Situation with Outstretched Arm by Oliver Zahn involved an extended performance of The saluto Romano, more commonly known as The Hitler Salute. As the performer, Sara Tamburini, stood with her arm outstretched, a voiceover calmly and precisely analysed firstly the physicality of the position, explaining the muscles involved and that the strain would show itself over an extended period, and secondly the history of the gesture in art and then politics, dating back to 1784. As he did so, the strain did begin to tell, and by the end of the half hour piece, the performer was in obvious considerable discomfort as she attempted to keep her arm aloft.

The essay was enlightening in many respects, as it put this gesture into context. Certain facts drew gasps from the audience, such as the fact that this was the gesture used by American school-children to salute the flag until 1942. In the post-show discussion, the company explained that performing the piece in Germany had, understandably, caused the most friction. But this work feels important in its cool narration. There is no hint either of glorification or explicit condemnation (though the physical discomfort of the performer serves as a clear metaphor for the gestures destructive context). The bare facts themselves tell the story, and I learned a lot not just about this gesture but the nature of power structures in the twentieth century and beyond.

The final piece of the night was Overload by Sotterraneo. In the vein of Monty Python or the Fast Show, this was half an hour of high-energy fast-paced fun, which aimed to comment on a culture of mass-media driven short-attention spans. Scenes would begin and then, once a chain-link symbol on a piece of card was displayed by one of the cast, could be interrupted by the audience – if someone stands up, the scene changes, often with hilarious and context-twisting results. In the post-show discussion, the piece was praised for asking ‘why should we be expected to have long attention spans in a theatre context? Why did we need to sit and watch one thing diligently when we do that so little in our own lives?’

The piece begins to ask these questions quite well. It could go further, and it will be interesting to see how it develops. The strongest moments were those which found patches of darkness amongst the frivolity. Both tones work together, and Sotterraneo’s mad-cap performance style is fun to watch and well executed. A very good show, but possibly some work to be done on finding that light-dark balance.

Closing Party with F*ck the Houseband

The festival closed at the Old Police House, a great little venue which is literally that – an old house, nestled near the big shop in Gateshead. An intimate venue with a pop-up underground feel.

I have to hold my hands up here and say that I arrived pretty late and missed most of the action, but from what I caught at the end, F*ck The Houseband are a lot of fun. With the feel of a punk gig in a squat, there are only a few rules:

  1. Anyone can be in the house band
  2. You don’t need to know how to play an instrument
  3. NO COVERS
  4. NO REHEARSALS

New people jump up every song. And it sounded pretty decent. Thrashing, screaming, interactive, communal, chaotic music in a small room, right in amongst the crowd. That’s how to do a punk gig. Guitar, drumkit, mic, and a bass guitar which was smashed to pieces on the floor by none other that festival director Kate Craddock. A party piece which, if a little deliberate, makes for a great spectacle, I got the impression that the company bring a sacrificial instrument along to trash.

I wish I’d been there for more of it. I was excited by the idea in the brochure but with a nagging suspicion that it would fall short of the adventure I’d built it up to be in my head. It didn’t. It was right on the money. The energy in the room was primal and excited when I arrived. Definitely worth a go if you have a chance.

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