This review was originally written for the daily Flare Festival publication.
Plastered on the side of the pub Hardy’s Well, opposite my old flat, is a poem by Lemn Sissay that I looked up at every morning with fondness. And on the 142 bus, I’d see another one on the side of a building on Oxford Road. These words integrated themselves into my everyday life, and as the newly appointed Chancellor of University of Manchester, Sissay represents the positive incorporation of artists into mainstream Mancunion culture. His explosive mix of eccentric comedy and poetry is a fresh and lively welcome at the festival opening, reaching out to visiting International artists that will be performing over the next week. A very warm welcome from Manchester indeed. Spirits are high, and the audience absorb Sissay’s poem about letting go, about life and about flight, an appropriate and positive start to a festival that prides itself on spotlighting promising and exciting talent around the globe.
Unfortunately not all artists that intended to perform arrived in the UK and there is an important statement from visa-refused Georgian artists via Skype call, highlighting what it is to be an International artist and the right to movement. New Collective, who were programmed to open the festival, hold their head high and stress that a dialogue needs to start and be continued during the festival about cultural inequality and how we are to move forward from this disappointing decision from British immigration. After a petition on change.org failed to overturn the decision to refuse the artists’ entries, Artistic director Neil Mackenzie stated that he was grateful for the wide amount of support the case attracted, leading to a third review by the Home Office. A hearty cheer from the audience demonstrates the utter frustration for the artists and the wider concerns at hand, and although a devastating result, the collective decide to create a protest piece with German born artist and director Mareike Wenzel that will run throughout the festival; a bitterly ironic turn of events from a group of artists originally exploring what it is to start a new life in Manchester in their work “Welcome”.
However, ending on a high, Sleepwalk Collective close with award-winning show “As the Flame rose we danced to the sirens, the sirens”; a playful re-telling of femme fatales, old Hollywood actresses and B-movie appropriation. It’s blur of reality and absurdity with a narrative that blends seamlessly and dreamy minimal lighting, divides the audience into those who found it funny, those who found it uncomfortable to watch, and those who laughed out of un-comfortableness. The body of performer Iara Solano Arana is explored as a vessel and a projection of woman-ness, all tied together with a softly spoken, and often unreliable, narrator and it is sad, humorous and seductive all in one. An all round interesting look at appropriation and memory from a woman who knows how to work an audience whilst also appearing fairly vulnerable. Sleepwalk Collective makes for a strong start to the programme, and are back on Tuesday for the workshop “Your Words” and Thursday with their new show “Actress” for the Double Bill at Contact Theatre.