Flare International Festival of New Theatre Triple Bill
This is the final triple bill in the Festival which has run across 6 days and 4 Manchester venues. Like the other works it is challenging to the audience in a number of ways.
Body On, devised and danced by Tamar Blom and Kajetan Uranitsch from the Netherlands
This 35-minute dance piece is performed by the two dancers who are nude and have very toned bodies. There is an appropriate warning about full frontal nudity and graphic sexuality on the way into the auditorium.
The pair begin by scrutinising the audience almost daring us to look back and we do. Then they spoon in the centre of the stage and rest occasionally, checking to see we are watching and we are.
After another pause, the Abba song "Dancing Queen" comes on and they are off like a rocket bounding all round the stage and doing what can only be described as sexually explicit gyrations. They appear to be miming having sex with the floor, the wall, the curtains, the stairs and so on in increasingly inventive ways. They even dive into the auditorium to continue.
Through a heavy techno beat, they alternate with active and passive roles for each. There is a section where each stands and rotates their genital organs briefly before getting back into the sexual gyrations.
It moves towards its end with the pair appearing to mime having sex with each other. It is not pornographic however as neither dancer becomes aroused although the energy with which they continue these motions is breathtaking and gruelling.
They describe the work as being about exploring intimacy and the boundaries between two male bodies. How far can they go in being connected and disconnected? Where does one start and the other stop and so on? This is a fair description of what they do.
The separate body thrusting continues for about 20 of the 35 minutes and then after a brief dowsing with water from a small pool on the stage it changes to an exploration of themselves. They climb on each other and move round the stage, exploring each other as they do, totally intertwined and by this point dripping with sweat and the muck of the stage floor.
The work has an aspect of ritual about it and the aggressive and almost mindless first movement seems to be saying something about the pointless pursuit of pleasure long past the moment at which it can even be enjoyed. It feels like it has become almost a torture for them. The second movement is far gentler and much more sensual and intimate.
The audience must, like this reviewer, have wondered how far they would take their investigations but it is very well controlled. It remains debatable as to whether any of the atavistic power of the piece would be diminished if they wore even a skimpy thong, however they keep the attention of the audience for the whole time and it is a stunning and committed performance.
You Are Kind Of Like A Hairy Stranger I Know. Devised and presented by Tiana Hemlock-Yensen from Australia
This 15-minute piece begins outside the auditorium where Tiana asks each member of the audience to give her a hair.
When the performance begins, she takes these hairs onto the stage which is covered with a plastic tarpaulin and begins to roll the hairs into two earwig like shapes. Tiana then moves round the stage with these before eventually appearing to digest them which draws audible gasps from the audience.
The rest of the work involves disappearing underneath the plastic sheeting and travelling across the stage in it while appearing at the same time to be trying to escape. The shapes she makes are quite clever and inventive. It’s never clear how soon she will materialize or where she will go next all the while being just a series of outlines travelling in different directions.
After a while, Tiana does emerge and begins to fold the plastic into a giant rope and tidies it away and that is pretty much the whole performance. While it is very well done and there is much humour, it does feel the least full of content of the three on the bill.
Professional Supervision by Thomas Martin from the UK
This is an hour-long spoken-word piece with musical accompaniment from Luke Novak on electric guitar.
Thomas describes this as a time-travelling, coming-of-age, spoken-word murder mystery. He also dubs it how Johnny Knoxville’s consciousness travelled from the future to live inside his teenage head. Quite how much of any of this story is literally true is not the point. It’s the journey that Thomas Martin conjures which is quite spellbinding full of atmosphere and foreboding.
He tells how when he was young he left Banchory in Northern Scotland for small town America. He is not just any old teenager experiencing puberty but one with a voice inside him that is not his own. It is that of the trickster from the TV series Jackass.
Thomas alternates between his younger self and this other entity and uses the microphone very well to differentiate both in terms of accent and style. He nails the stultifying small-town atmosphere and the budding and very odd romance with his girlfriend Avelyne, which he tells and shows us rhymes with javelin.
She also hears a voice from the future and together they have a series of odd adventures in a cinema car lot and then in a torrential downpour. There is much violence described and the first sequence seems straight out of hard-boiled detective fiction but it is brilliantly detailed and quirkily unpredictable.
Some of the content is very adult and not for the squeamish such as when he damages himself in a very private place and describes the treatment he has to self administer in visceral almost forensic detail. There is also a sublime section set in and around a toilet.
Thomas Martin maintains the tension with great comic timing and the help of a few graphics on a screen. He has the audience in the palms of his hands, which is quite an achievement for a spoken word and rather static performance. There are some clever and pleasing songs and the evocative music put this reviewer in mind of the Ry Cooder score for the Wim Wenders film Paris Texas.
In the first interval, there was a workshop connecting Manchester with Georgia in the Caucasus because some artists due from there had rather perplexingly been refused entry visas to the UK.
This was a long but hugely nourishing evening at the Contact theatre and a fitting finale to the Flare International Festival of New Theatre.
Reviewer: Andrew Edwards