Monday, 12 November 2012

Best of BE Festival, Lowry Studio 6/11/12

BE Festival (I think I’m right in saying the BE stands for Birmingham European) was first held in 2010. Its aim, according to their website, was to celebrate the difference and variety within Europe, but also the universal languages and experiences that unite us. It has done this over the last three years by bringing together diverse performances from artists and companies across Europe, that don’t necessarily rely on a common language or cultural references to connect with an audience and bring people together to celebrate both differences and similarities.

For the first time this year, three performances from the 2012 festival were chosen to tour the UK, and this visit to the Lowry Studio was the final stop on that tour. The event was nicely structured, almost as a mini festival in itself, with two performances, then a break for food and a chance to chat to other audience members and the artists, followed by the final piece, and a question and answer section with the companies, that allowed us to get an insight into the development processes for the pieces and the inspiration behind them.

L’Absent, by La Compagnie du Geste qui Sauve (Brussels)
This was a beautifully crafted piece of physical theatre created and performed by Antonin Descampe and Lievine Hubert. Apart from occasional interludes from the gorgeous voice of singer Liane Van De Putte, this was performed silently and you could have heard a pin drop in the Lowry Studio. The performance was absolutely captivating. A lady is in her home, and the gentleman shadows her movements, stepping into the place of various objects she interacts with such as a shower, a chair, and even, most beautifully, a dress that flows around her. It’s so cleverly done, illustrating how the influence of people can live on in the objects around us long after they leave, and has a really haunting and emotional twist towards the end. My only criticism of this piece is that it was too short and the final scene maybe a little hurried and I would have loved to have seen more. It is possible that it will be developed further and I really hope it is, it deserves it, and the skill of the performers in realising it so beautifully is awe inspiring.

Fantasy no 10: “The Beauty of Life” by Compagnia Vladimir Tzekov (Granada)
I had a little more problem falling in love with this piece! It is utterly bewildering, at times absurd, and with no fathomable narrative or structure. In the post-show discussion, it became clear that this was exactly what the company were aiming to create. They want to strip away all narrative, and challenge the audience’s reactions. They find it interesting to see how people react and want the audience to put their own individual interpretation on what is shown to them. I got the impression that success to them would be no two members of an audience having the same experience. To me it felt more like a piece of performance art than a theatre production, and performance art and I have never really gelled, the logical side of my brain is always shouting ‘but why’! There was no doubt that it was skilfully performed, and there were some very striking images that have stayed with me. The music was well used and there were some sections that were highly amusing, although I was never really clear whether I was meant to be amused. But there were also a few elements that I felt had been just included for the shock factor that really didn’t add to the piece, and as an audience member at times I felt I was being patronised. But that’s just my personal reaction, and as the post-performance discussion showed, my reaction was not typical of the audience as a whole.

Solfatara by A Tres Bandes (Barcelona)
The night ended on a high for me with this crazy and extremely funny piece, which won the audience prize at this year’s festival. It concerned a couple’s relationship and how simmering tensions can come to the surface, contrasting this with the behaviour of a volcano. As well as the couple in question, there is a third character on the stage, a masked man, a kind of inner voice, vocalising the unsaid tensions of both parties, and stirring them up to erupt and descend into chaos. I find it quite hard to describe what went on as its structure and performance were completely original, somewhat surreal at times and very, very funny. The performance was in Spanish and there was a genius use of surtitles which loosely followed the script but occasionally and quite hilariously veered off, for example when an argument was in full rapid fire flow and the surtitles admitted defeat. Interestingly, the company told us that the surtitles were not used as part of the piece in Spain, and a Spanish speaker in the audience commented on how much more they added to the piece even though she could follow the language.

Overall this night was a great opportunity to see some diverse pieces from across Europe and get a real feel for what the BE Festival is about. From what the festival directors were saying in the post-show discussion, they owe a debt of thanks to the Lowry Studio’s current programmer, Porl Cooper, for the advice, support and encouragement he has given them in bringing this to a wider audience outside Birmingham. Porl is moving on soon, and he will be a big loss to the Lowry, but I hope his influence lives on and exciting work like this continues to be brought to our doorstep.

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