Since its inception in 2015, Take Me Somewhere has become a vital component of Glasgow’s theatre, dance and performance scene, offering a significant platform to local artists and bringing international perspectives into contact with the city and its communities. Beyond all that, it was, at least for me, a welcoming and inclusive space for gathering and celebrating. Its cancellation in 2020 left a significant social and cultural absence.
For 2021, Take Me Somewhere returns. Of course, it looks a little different, with the majority of work being digital. Performances are either live-streamed at particular show times or available on demand. Typically, my experience of digital work has left me cold and only served to draw attention to that which isn’t there. Community mostly, but also discovery, chance, the unexpected. Where dates can be exported into the Google calendar, it’s hard to stumble into a digital space, to take a punt or be dragged along to something by a keen pal. Turning up to digital performance has often felt more like going to work than anything else.
Yet my scepticism proved ill-founded. This year’s Take Me Somewhere delivered exactly what I didn’t expect it to — it left me thoroughly and joyfully surprised.
Pain & I, Sarah Hopfinger
I was having a bad, treacle sort of day. I hadn’t intended to check out Sarah Hopfinger’s Pain & I, her autobiographical audio piece about living with chronic pain. I merely loaded the Take Me Somewhere hub in search of something to distract me from my brain. Much to my subsequent delight, I stumbled upon her work, available upon demand. I plugged my headphones in, lay on the floor, closed my eyes and listened.
Originally conceived of as a choreographic studio performance for a live audience, the work is repurposed and directed into my ears. I listen to Hopfinger addressing her pain, calling it in. Through poetic text and the sounds of distant strings, she steadily outlines the frustrating, romantic and ultimately deep relationship she has with this unwanted life partner. I’m initially lured into thinking the work is relaxing or meditative, however it isn’t long before the author’s words catch and become stuck in anxious loops, akin to Tim Etchell’s ‘Moving Words’, only with greater feeling. Yet through the gentle force of repetition, these linguistic knots are massaged and dispersed. Rest, Hopfinger is telling me, is an act of listening which requires regular practice.
Pain and I is primarily about the particularities of living with chronic pain. That being said, the work resonates with wider themes that are returned to throughout the festival. Hopfinger’s audio work demonstrates the immense value of learning to be with that which you can’t leave – pain, grief, regrets, vices, circumstances, histories, presentness. This is work, hard work – a labour that other artists and audiences at Take Me Somewhere are grappling with too.
Wrapped Up in This, Mele Broomes
Mele Broomes’ new solo is strident, visceral and full of care. It tells the story of a black woman, and black women, who is and are inextricably tied to the labours of the generations before them, as well as to the responsibilities of care, guidance and teaching they have to those who lie ahead. Shifting between vocal melodies, dance and spoken word, Broomes occupies this position to explore its difficulties, injustices and weight, as well as its joy, euphoria and spiritual transcendence.
‘Wrapped up in this’ is an intensely engaging and ever-shifting visual experience. The clarity of its videography elevates our ability to focus upon the richness of the work’s lighting, costume and choreography. My eyes are seared with images of mist rolling across the floor, gathering around a distant figure; of Transformer-esque silver shimmering arms, jittering in and out of shot. Meanwhile, my ears are filled with deep organs tones, repetitive beats and gorgeously warm melodies. A lockdown blues-breaking sort of overwhelming, I can’t believe I’m watching it on my laptop.
Amongst this, it’s three particular moments that stand out. The first sees Broomes embodying a very literal interpretation of the show’s title and theme, wrapped up in a thin gauze-like sheet on the floor. While quite simple as an image, it’s meaning is super clear and resonant. The audience can feel the weight and expanse of the material she wrestles with. The second features voiced-over text from a selection of black women, talking about the racism they encounter working in caring professions. In a work which has relatively little spoken text, these fragments are given space to land, amplifying these women’s abilities to maintain themselves, maintain caring and maintain humour.
The third moment is a piece of spoken word, delivered by Broomes herself. The delivery is angry, demanding a rigour of engagement from its audience that is awe-inspiring, intimidating and uncomfortably at odds with my expectations of being passive when sitting behind a screen. Broomes calls out the passivity of those who can afford to wait for change, to wait for someone else to do the work.
At the Ends of the Day, Mamoru Iriguchi
Mamoru Iriguchi’s zoom-based performance invites audience members to attend without the lights on, lit by only a single candle. Together in an anonymous cyberspace, the audience are immersed in the sounds of the ends of the day from around the world, broadcast from a pirate radio station which also moves its location. These ends of day are recordings of ambient noise, ranging from frogs to road traffic, from people living in various countries including Germany, Scotland, Palestine, Namibia and Japan. At the work’s culmination, these ends of day are layered on top of each other into a beguiling ambient mix, which is pleasantly perplexing to my ears.
While I enjoyed the premise of the work and this cumulative moment, I found it surprisingly difficult to relax into. In part, this had something to do with me being a nosy audience member, skipping through the Zoom screens to see if I could recognise anyone in attendance. It also had something to do with the fact that my candle of choice erupted into a fairly substantial flame and had to be doused mid-performance, which went someway to confirming my deeply-held suspicion that participatory performance’s greatest flaw is letting me participate. My own conduct aside, I feel that my experience of slightly bouncing off the work’s surfaces emerged from a clash between the attention that Zoom calls typically command of me, and the relaxed attentiveness that this work sought to make space for. Other audience members’ experiences may well have been very different but nevertheless, as digital performances become increasingly common, it generates questions about what a ‘Zoom performance‘ is and what it could be, as well as how its particular form may be differentiated from other modes of digital performance. Sitting at my desk, using the software and related apparatus of my working environment, it was hard to relax.
Nevertheless, Iriguchi’s work presents a welcoming and expansive notion of community, as well as a brain-scramblingly non-localised understanding of what a day is. Gathered together with others, the realisation that the end of the day is happening somewhere, pretty much all the time, was a staggering and a beautiful sensation. In a year where I’ve spent a lot of time with myself and often felt like the centre of my own lockdown universe, At the Ends of the Day made me feel brilliantly small and reassuringly uncentred. The work doesn’t really end — we are simply ejected from the call as the next host in Iceland picks up the baton and continues to broadcast. This ejection didn’t feel violent, rather comforting, heartening to know that the day continues to end elsewhere without me. When I close the laptop at the end of our day, I fell into a deep and contented sleep.
Brain-scrambling ambience, vague nothingy thoughts about Zoom dramaturgy, scorch marks on my desk and the lingering odour of smoke. A successful Take Me Somewhere in anyone’s books.
Take Me Somewhere runs online and in Glasgow from 21 May-5 June. More info here.