2015 has been a great year for Manchester’s arts and culture scene.
We’ve seen SICK! Festival‘s Manchester pilot festival come to life in March, and recently found out the fantastic news that it has been funded for another run in 2017.
Scratch night #hereandnow in temporary theatre space The Roundabout shed light on some brilliant Manchester based theatre companies that are making a name for themselves including Art with Heart and their wonderful work-in-progess that focused on mental health and the creative process.
Word of Warning’s Emergency celebrated its sweet sixteenth, providing a full day of live-art and durational performance, and turned a derelict building into a surreal funhouse of performance for Domestic II in the autumn.
Contact’s Young Company relished in the success of Shrine of Everyday Things and the brilliant Under the Covers that toured to Southbank Centre and Edinburgh after overwhelmingly positive reviews in its first run back in March.
And of course we said goodbye to Cornerhouse and welcomed HOME to First Street – a buzzing, thriving art space that provides a platform for cuting edge theatre, Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) being a particularly surreal but wickedly clever highlight for me.
With all that in mind, I reflect on my top 5(ish) moments this year.
Playtime – Various Artists It wouldn’t be an end of year review if I didn’t mention the closing exhibition of one of Manchesters most loved buildings. An arts hub to some, and a home to many, Cornerhouse was a place where people found solace on a busy Oxford Rd. Since arriving in Manchester in 2009, Cornerhouse was a pillar in the local arts scene, and even though it’s rebirth as HOME is strong, it will never be the same. Playtime was an exciting send off to a place that encouraged both emerging and established work to be exhibited. It had real elements of fun, and many ‘are we allowed to actually do this?’ moments. Can we touch this? Can we go on that swing? Are we meant to be going through those doors? Playing with the conventions of most galleries, this exhibition was all about touch, curiosity and just having a great time. Out with the stuff upper lip and in with childlike cheekiness. For once the audience can let loose and really embrace the tactile nature of work. Less thinking, more doing.
A much loved institution, used, loved, and now missed by many.
Age of Ledger – Joseph Lau Contact Theatre has always been encouraging of emerging artists using their spaces and developing their ideas. Moving Dance Forward was an excellent example and opportunity for the public to witness works-in-progress from some of the most talented choreographers in the area. Stand out performance by Joseph Lau was one of the most visceral and eloquent pieces of dance I’ve seen in a long time, and I hope to see more of him in years to come. Lau brings to the stage incredible charisma, responding to the social impacts of global economical struggle. Using simple props such as a bowl or a box on his head, created such powerful motifs and we were sucked into the world of Lau.
Nirbhaya– Yael Farber Powerful, horrifying and deeply touching, Nirbhaya may be the first piece of theatre that shook me to the core and proceeds to linger in my everyday thoughts. Nirbhyaha tells the story of four beautiful and powerful women telling their accounts of rape and abuse. Some by people they know, and some by strangers. It is placed in front of us, all bared and obviously still completely raw by the performers. Beautiful movement, mostly silent but occasionally accompanied by singing or traditional Indian music, beautiful set design, beautiful smells. In 90 minutes, the audience are completely shattered only to be built up by the immense courage and unity that we are confronted with following the burial of rape victim ‘Nirbhyaha’ which the public named her meaning FEARLESS.
The word resounds in the theatre, shouted by the victims that will not be beaten by the people who abused them. Our hands are raised in the air to signify each and every women who will not be silenced by their attackers.
With Force and Noise – Hannah Sullivan (photo credit: Jack Offord) It is a slow burner of a performance. Sullivan eases into her monologue with a softly spoken voice, almost too quiet to hear. The stage engulfs her tiny frame as she questions what drives her to be angry inside a small spotlight. The monologue starts humbly and passionately but as the tension builds, and her body starts to shake, we are suddenly aware of the boisterous contraption strapped to her back. She carries all her anger between her shoulder blades; a crowded collection of bells, designed by Annelies Henney and a relatable type of anger washes over me. That shaking, so angry I can’t get my words out, hot tears, ringing ears, type of angry that is uncontrollable and all consuming. Yet, it is not the anger that lives in us, but the overriding guilt that to be angry is to not rise above what makes us so. To be angry is to also feel guilty; a temporary feeling that is often dismissed as a childish emotion as Sullivan alludes to in her discussion of her and her brother’s turbulent but extremely familiar relationship. Sullivan’s articulate monologue is a sophisticated and well-presented idea of what it is to feel angry, and raises questions of how we communicate this particular emotion. When the performance is slowly, slowly building, I can’t help but be reminded of the 1976 Network monologue:
I want you to get MAD!…All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad! You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’
Being angry is a valid response to things that truly disturb and affect us as humans and Sullivan’s response to this emotion was an interesting and eloquent start addition to Flare Festival’s diverse programme.
Tipping Point – Ockham’s Razor Tipping Point is one of those shows that too be quite honest, I would usually pass on. Circus style acts don’t do it for me as my anxiety shoots through the roof when anyone lifts their feet off the ground. The show starts by the dancers highlighting the circle in which they dance within. The very core of the show revolves around circles, the edge of things. The pole is at the centre of the dance. In their words… “poles are balanced on fingertips, hung from the roof, lashed, climbed, swung from and walked along, they become forests, cross roads and pendulum”. And that’s exactly what we can saw – such a simple set design comprised of hanging poles transformed the circular space into a playground for the dancers.
At times it’s a struggle to watch but that only gives the choreography more honesty, staying true to its title. The tipping point, just teetering on the edge, so close you have to tense all your muscles in your body just to not fall off. The audience felt every move and it was brilliant. At times the choreography feels heavy, supportive, a struggle, and at other time it feels so light, and full of fragility. Free. These two elements compliment each other so well – it becomes less a showcase of skill but a strong narrative of support and human tenderness. Although a few nods to traditional circus acrobatics were woven into the choreography, it was very minimal, soothing and all together a sophisticated piece of physical theatre to watch.
Tree of Codes It won’t be with much surprise that this MIF commisioned piece is in my (and everyone else’s) top 5 art events of the year. With a beautiful and mesmerising soundtrack by Jamie XX, a stand out cast of dancers and an impressive set design by installation artist Olafur Elliason, it is no wonder that this contemporary ballet was received with outstandingly positive reviews. Tree of Codes was a magical, fragmented and exciting ode to Jonathan Safron Foer’s book of the same title. Our senses are overloaded with colour and intertwined movement, and it is beautiful. The dancers are glitchy, and broken, repeated and made infinite by mirrors that surround the stage and it works in such an immersive way, that the audience feels very much apart of the energy; we are swept up in a frenzy and we glance back at our reflections on the stage.
It isn’t imperative to know the book to understand the ballet, but it is an advantage to know that Foer’s “book sculpture” is also a copy; in fact, it is a reworking of his favourite novel Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz with the majority of the words physically removed from the pages to create an alternative narrative. It is a copy, of a copy, of a copy…
It is also an advantage to know that Wayne McGregor, multi award winning choreographer, is one of the few North-West born artists in the Manchester International Festival. With a festival that often emphasises the International and less on the Manchester, it is important to be reminded that our city has a creative landscape that is full incredible cretaive ideas that push the boundaries of physical performance.
Coming soon… What’s to come in 2016