Performance is shape-shifting terrain; in its formal multiplicity and social curiosity, it carves incisions into contemporary life, refracts its rhythms, invades public spaces with open ended questions and creates intimate encounters, subtle gestures and playful actions. This year has seen a rich, dynamic and even more accessible field grow out of its shell- and it’s had plenty to think about too, yet a considerable amount of this kind of work still requires festivals and seasons of work to reach its audience, despite a loud presence in the contemporary theatrical landscape.
Artsadmin’s Two Degrees Festival invited artists to tackle climate change and current political agendas not just topically, but formally, looking at the meeting point between performance and activism, from unique dining experiences to an informal and discursive hair salon, breaking out into collective networks throughout East London. It’s clear that political representation and collective action are shifting in the digital age, and that affects our relationship with institutionalized forms of protest. Taking this in mind, the Architecture Association’s exhibition Concrete Geometries explored the possibility of architecture to influence social behaviour, particularly looking at performing collectivity and considering the future potential of creating discursive spaces.
The roaming Distance Festival looked at our relationship to distance in the digital age through an innovative curatorial approach, developing its programme through a three leg journey in Riga, London and Newcastle, featuring Sorrel Muggridge and Laura Nanni’s 2360 Miles that represented the distance between the three cities through a scale length of rope, and Ruti Sela and Maayan Amir’s Trespassing which saw the artists breach public and private boundaries in their travels.
Another unique curatorial collaboration was Birmingham’s BE Festival bringing together an interesting selection of local and international work. Each night saw a different selection of thirty minute shows interrupted by a brief dinner and lots of conversation. Of note are international Spain- based Sleepwalk Collective with their piece As the Flames Rose We Danced to the sirens, the sirens and Theatre ad Infinitum’s beautifully expressive Translunar Paradise blending mask and movement, which you can catch at the London International Mime Festival this coming January.
Speaking of LIMF 2011, some excellent international work particularly in the realms of circus and performance art, with Joseph Nadj’s lyrical Les Corbeaux, American duo Sobelle & Ford’s witty satire Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl, Russian company Akhe’s inventive and playful Gobo.Digital Glossary and French circus company MPTA/Mathurin Bolze’s dazzling piece about the social politics of a moving shipwreck Du Goudron et Des Plumes.
Jackson’s Lane Postcards Festival featured some great work from Irish duo nineties inspired This is What We Do For a Living and Ed Rapley’s nostalgic and playful 10 Ways to Die Onstage accompanied by Bryony Kimming’s hilarious 7 Day Drunk.
ICA’s Live Art Weekends returned this year in a collaboration with Shunt collective , bringing a variety of artists in a nuanced five day marathon of films, interventions, workshops and parties featuring Action Hero’s Live Art Tattoo Parlour, Simon Kane’s subversive Jonah non Grata and Mamoru Iriguchi’s playful Bang Bang, bringing video games and performance together.
Spill Festival returned this year at the Barbican with Kings of England’s first piece in their ten year cycle of works, In Eldersfield Chapter One: An Elegy for Paul Dirac, containing one of the most powerful twenty minute silence you’ll ever encounter in theatre (watch out for Chapter Two next year) and Harminder Judge’s ritualistic Do What Thou Wilt. Back to Birmingham for Fierce Festival which examined the formal boundaries of performance in a collision of excellent pieces taking place in a myriad of spaces throughout the city, featuring Lundahl and Seitl’s sensorial experience of appropriated histories Symphony of a Missing Room at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Glasgow–based live art festival New Territories presented Via Negativa’s exploration of the concept of the present and relational in a special programme of performances. The V&A presented the exhibition Five Truths , an exploration of five European shape-shifters from Grotowski to Stanislavski under Katie Mitchell’s direction.
Back to London and Present Attempt’s showcase Show Time at Riverside Studios featuring some of the most playful and engaging live pieces from artists such as Rachel Mars’ witty Spoiling it for Everyone Else (who also presented the sharp Tomboy Blues with mars tarrab at Ovalhouse this winter), Barometric’s Escape Velocity , a show for two performers performed by one and Made in China’s excellent and messy exploration of micro and macro personal politics We Hope You Are Happy (Why Would We Lie?) . Dan Canham’s 30 Cecil Street, an elegy for a ruined theatre was also performed at the wonderful Forest Fringe.
Battersea Arts Centre returned with One on One Festival featuring Tanya El-Khoury’s male only Maybe If You Choreograph Me You Will Feel Better and the wonderful Where the Wild Things Sleep by The Campinglis Bell Halls. Camden People’s Theatre’s Sprint Festival saw some great work from Stoke Newington International Airport’s own Greg McLaren with his singing extravaganza Doris Day Can Fuck Off and London Word Festival was home to Ant Hampton & Tim Etchell’s intimate piece set in libraries exploring the nature of books, The Quiet Volume. Chelsea Theatre’s season of work Sacred returned this year with experimental duo Othon & Tomasini’s Impermanence and Brazilian artist Thelma Bonavita’s I am a Gogoia Fruit.
Performance Matters, the collaboration between the Live Art Development Agency and Roehampton and Goldsmiths Universities returned this year with a programme exploring the notion of trash in performance. Trashing Performance brought together academics, artists, punters and critics. Highlights include Scottee and Eat Your Heart Out collective’s Performance Doesn’t Matter, and Mel Brimfield’s live mockumentary This is Performance Art Part Two.
Allow me a brief and final jump across the ocean to Performa 11, a visual art performance biennal at the forefront of performance curation, featuring Ben Kinmont’s Exhibition in Your Mouth and Mai–Thu Perret’s Love Letters in Ancient Box inspired by American comic strip Krazy Kat. Back to Europe for Hungarian director Arpad Schilling’s large scale social experiment The Crisis Trilogy, an exploration of contemporary European identity through a series of site-specific works and interventions blending photography, film, opera, theatre and community-based projects and spanning three countries. Its first incarnation took place in a disused building in Prague and saw twelve volunteers inhabit the space in order to construct a micro-society based entirely on a Durkheimian sociological theory. At a time of crisis in Europe, Schilling is asking a highly urgent question about the relationship between art and political, social and cultural representation.
- Responsibilities of Representation. Tess Berry-Hart and Odessa Celt debate what place theatre has in affecting social change.
- Child’s Play. Purni Morell, Artistic Director of the Unicorn Theatre, on making uncompromising children's theatre.
- Necessary Friction. Shamser Sinha on creating his new play The Dissidents with the Tricycle's Young Company