When we think of European performance festivals, surely we all think of elegant clashes of language and music, artists referring to choreography in the singular, and audiences sporting more polos than necks. In this touring ‘best of’ edit, a carefully curated sampler ahead of the all-you-can-eat festival of performing arts in late June, the organisers have chosen three different highlights to promote from their extensive 2016 programme – and in this presentation of Grumelot’s #sobrejulieta, Squarehead Productions’ The Whistle and TIDA’s Quintetto, they give us three very good reasons to vote “Stay”.
Carlota Gaviño kicks off the evening with an half an hour extract from a 85 minute long piece, which is clearly suffering from the severing blows of the butcher’s knife tonight. Hailing from the Canary Islands, Gaviño brings an intense self-aware passion to the stage and seductive pronunciación to her rolled “r”s in this alternative take on Romeo and Juliet. Trust me, if you haven’t yet grasped the sex appeal of “My lips, two blushing pilgrims”, Gaviño will sort you out.
Grumelot gives us a lot to think about – too much, certainly, for such a short show. We have Shakespeare, Spanish heritage, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Wannadies, Greta Garbo, party games, audience interaction, hashtags, and the Who Wants to be a Millionaire theme song. And that’s before we get to the real meat of this performance: ‘a study of love and death as biological processes’. There are brief moments of scientific wonder – a projector lists the chemicals released during a good snog – but #sobrejulieta, abridged, is so full of personality, the more factual content gets brushed aside.
That being said, there’s a richly melodramatic sense of chaos here, that somehow really works. Gaviño has accepted her character’s tragic fate even before she’s put on her costume – but there’s life and spirit in her performance. While we remain seated, Gaviño invites a camera to follow her out into the foyer – and there’s a beautiful moment, during this pre-recorded iconic balcony speech, where she looks as disheartened by a no entry barrier, as by her lost love. It’s this collage of experience, great and trivial, combined with the sense of nervous admiration present as Gaviño looks out at the audience, that makes this performer so loveable. While I’m left in the dark regarding the chemical make-up of desire, I know my heart’s beating just that little bit faster.
While there was a real sense of spontaneity to Gaviño’s script, Irish performer Darragh McLoughlin provides a strong dose of regimentation in The Whistle. “When I blow on my whistle, you have to close your eyes” he demands, like a particularly strict Boarding Mother at bedtime. “When I blow again, you open them”. There’s a real thrill to this framework, especially when held up by the pristine circus skills and neat showmanship of this artist.
McLoughlin is constantly toying with his audience, setting up a juggling trick, only to blind the most obedient members of the audience before dramatic climax is reached. Such is McLoughlin’s control, he even has a sign ready for when he assumes we’re most likely to peak – and there’s pleasure to be found in the careful patterning of his tease, and the thrill of our voyeurism. McLoughlin plays with our trust artfully. There’s comedy when he’s in control, and discomfort to be found when we break his rules. “Thank you for your honesty” he chimes, as we promise to keep our eyes shut while he changes from one polo neck and set of joggers into another polo neck and set of joggers on-stage. It’s a joke, but one that plays on trust, consent and permission. Later, he undermines his own rules by blowing his whistle faster than we can blink.
If cuts to the arts across our continent have made a mockery out of our creatives, it’s only right that some of this shame and embarrassment is passed onto audiences. In TIDA’s Quintetto, Marco Chenevier does just that. As the story goes, Chenevier was all set to put on a piece of dance-theatre centred around Nobel Prize-winning Scientist Rita Levi-Montalcini. He even had the ruffled collar packed to help him do it. Unfortunately his team of dancers and creatives weren’t captivated by the heady (and all too familiar) promise of “something to add to your CV” – so it’s up to amateur operators and performers plucked from the audience to get the show back on the road.
While the result is, of course, far from flawless, Chenevier is a master of disorder, dishing out cues with just the right spark of irritable emphasis, comically shushing the audience when our giggles puncture his fragile masterpiece. His wig department having been replaced with a bottle of talcum powder, Chenevier darts around stage with strength and grace through his neat piece of professional choreography, leaving a cloud of dust behind him. Meanwhile, the home-spun show that stumbles on beside him only working to highlight how important it is to grant the arts environments within which they can flourish. If this night is anything to go by, we can thank BE Festival for playing its part.
The Best of BE Festival is now touring in the UK. Click here for details.