We'll be updating this site regularly and quickly in order to give you personal, unedited and unspun critical reactions to the work seen at Spill 2007. Expect critical writing about the performances at SPILL, as well as interviews and accounts of workshops and rehearsals.
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Got home last night about 11.30 after Julia Bardsley's 'Trans-Acts' and fell straight into bed, so my review of Kira O'Reilly's work will be here in about 1 hour.....
watch this space and please do comment online to let us know your thoughts on the work-and on the writing.
Image: SPILL Festival presents Kira O'Reilly in 'Untitled'
From the far end of a row of old railway arches underneath London Bridge station a white shape looms slowly out of the darkness. It slowly moves towards us. We strain to see more clearly but the shape is only glimpsed occasionally when shafts of light fall through the gaps in the surrounding arches. Eventually I make out the back of a figure. It is Kira and she is completely naked except a pair of red shiny stilettos and a black feather headdress.
It takes at least 7 minutes for Kira to move from her end of the corridor to ours. Once she has arrived, smiling seductively, into our midst she singles out one unsuspecting member of the audience and leads him into the adjoining arch. We follow. From there, the audience witness several acts, including Kira gently self-cutting with a scalpel and stepping to a metronome beat in a variety of taut, automaton style movements whilst straining and teetering on her red high heels.
There are many visual signifiers embedded within Kira’s physical actions. The rigidity of her body and blank facial expression recall the military: be it the daily exercises of North Korean soldiers or the exacting motions of a 1970’s Russian gymnast. In addition, the strict rhythm set by the metronome emphasises the impossible task of the body inhabiting, but moreover keeping up with, todays technological pace. Light is also thoughtfully installed and used to great effect in ‘Untitled (Syncope)’, creating pronounced areas of darkness and invisibility under each arch into which Kira moves to signal the different parts of the performance. This ‘off stage’ facility heightens the contrast between Kira’s stilettoed robotics and the second part of the performance in which she emerges from the dark minus stilettos and headdress to complete a series of repeated and slower balancing acts. Yet despite these poetic distractions my thoughts return continually to Kira’s naked body.
The naked body is part and parcel and raison d’etre of performance art. Its use can be traced back in its various guises of ‘Body Art’ via women artists such as Hannah Wilke, Carolee Schneeman, Marina Abramovich and Annie Sprinkle, amongst others, and further back to the work of the 1960’s Viennese Actionists. But despite its familiarity within performance and live art circles the naked body is still a shock for most people-including me- to see. In the case of ‘Untitled (Syncope)’ the shock of Kira’s nakedness derives in part from the industrial architecture that surrounds her creamy white body; her nakedness is vulnerable and fragile within the harsh context of the abandoned warehouse space that is London Bridge Railway arches and every train that rumbles overhead threatens her soft flesh.
The other shock regarding the nakedness in ’Untitled (Syncope)’ is much more theoretical, albeit cultural. Kira’s use of red stilettos and 1930’s burlesque type headdress set her up as a sex object or pin up for the gaze of her male and female spectators alike. This presentation of the female body is far removed from many of the iconic performance documentation images of the 1970’s in which the necessarily overt feminist statements contain a more ‘nude’, natural and defiantly full body-haired woman. In contrast-and here I feel I break the taboo of Performance Art by detailing the performers nakedness- Kira’s pubic hair is shaved into a severe contemporary style, her underarm hair is removed and she wears red stilettos. In this way her body is more akin to pole dancing or porn. This is perhaps the salient point of ‘Untilted (Syncope)’; the difference between Feminism and the representation of female body, then and now.
It is important that Kira, both as artist/subject and object, is willingly and knowingly interpreted in this way, ie sexually. Her provocative smiles at close range with the audience confirm this knowledge. In addition, Kira overtly references her nakedness at one point in the performance by firmly clasping her front and back nether-regions and stalking dramatically off stage into the darkness as if suddenly aware for the first time of her own public and very sexual naked body.
The last line in the photocopy distributed at the performance asks ‘How to have a body, now?’ Kira seems to be dealing directly with this very question of (female) representation and thus it is important that ’Untitled (Syncope)’ is a work that grapples openly with the problematic of its own erotics.
Rachel Lois xx
As she gets nearer, we can see that we’re not the only people watching. The naked showgirl holds a mirror in front of her face so that she sees us approach just as we see her. She moves closer, the sound of her heels on the stone floor suddenly louder than the sound of other people breathing. And, when she’s close enough to touch, she gazes at each of us in turn through her mirror. We are finally confronted with the face behind the body.
The encounter is unsettling. Up to that point we were free to gaze at O’Reilly’s beautiful figure, but now it has been given agency – literally, a mind of its own. And having introduced the concept, O’Reilly spends the rest of the performance questioning who or what that agency means.
When she leads an audience member, by the hand, into the darker recesses of the vaults, we all follow. When she moves rapidly around the space we clamber after her and out of her way. When she disappears into darkness at the end of the performance, we are bereft for a moment, at a loss as to what to do. Clearly this body has power – we’re drawn to watching it move. And the allure is intended – framed in the showgirl costume and all the more erotic for its contrast to the grimy surroundings. But it doesn’t look as if these productions of the body stem from Kira O’Reilly herself. The heels and headdress are the traditional accessories of someone else’s (a paying customer’s) sexual desire, and even the way O’Reilly moves seems to be guided by a something separate. She changes location, for example, by placing both hands on one waist and dragging herself around. Her hands cast long shadows over her body and take her in ways she doesn’t seem to want to go – they don't look like they belong to her. At other times she moves her arms up and down like a puppet at the whim of a clumsy puppeteer, her eyes staring straight and stonily ahead. By keeping her face blank – the same face we saw eye us with weary suspicion at the beginning of the piece – O’Reilly takes on the function of a doll without any of the associated artifice. In other words, she tolerates the manipulation but she doesn’t play along.
But this is not a simple dramatisation of resistance. The hidden controller can never be named, so s/he can’t be rallied against and overturn. In any case, the piece suggests this control can’t be separated from the body it’s controlling.
The only acoustic accompaniment to O’Reilly’s performance is the strict metronome beat of a ticking clock, by which all her movements are timed. Is this the drumbeat of someone else’s time? Or is it O’Reilly’s own pulse, racing and slowing as she completes her routine? It doesn’t matter which it is, only that it governs how O’Reilly can move.
After a while, some audience members start moving to its rhythm as well – we’ve all internalised this discipline. This is the lasting impression that makes the piece so successful - the nagging feeling that we're all complicit, that perhaps we're all being manipulated. And the transposition of what's happening to the performer onto what's happening to us is emphasized, again, in O'Reilly's exit. She leaves the way she came in - but this time she's facing us. Slowly, elegantly, she fades into the darkness like a dream, or a thought from our own minds.
Image: SPILL Festival presents Pacitti Company in 'Civil'
Robert Pacitti is the Artistic Director of Pacitti Company, and the Festival Director of SPILL. He’s been making work for twenty years, and has won over twenty awards; he’s been supported by LADA, was the first recipient of a Time/ Space Fellowship from King Alfred University College, Winchester, and is a co-founder of the New Work Network. No stranger to success, then. Neither, you’d have to assume, is he someone with a lot of time on his hands.
So what made him produce the SPILL Festival? And, given the fact that there are three shows by Pacitti Company in the Festival, how does the event affect his position as a maker of work?
Robert Pacitti doesn’t hide the fact that SPILL is a platform for his work. There is nothing like it in
But the three venues participating in SPILL, Pacitti hopes, will go some way to redressing this specialisation. He hopes that audiences will go to more than one venue, and points out that audience development works both ways: the venues hope to attract more and diverse audiences through SPILL as much as SPILL hopes to through the venues. On the day after Raimund Hoghe’s performance at the Barbican, Pacitti was pleased to note the ‘older, monied’ audience. Naturally, he’d like to court these types of people (although such a fast-selling show begs the question – were these really new audiences, or Hoghe aficionados?), but while it’s easy to imagine Shunt regulars going to the Barbican or Soho Theatre, it’s not so easy to imagine some types of Barbican regular enjoying an evening at Shunt.
And yet the difference in venues is not just about bringing in visitors. Each location, Pacitti says, will bring its own angle to the work shown. The ‘edginess’ of some work might have a particular thrill at the Barbican; the formal innovation of other pieces could present a new direction at Soho Theatre; and while you might expect to see challenging work at Shunt, Pacitti hopes the parity with the other, more established venues will lend the work and its situation a kind of credence.
Robert Pacitti is drawn towards a ‘dirty word’ in Performance Art circles: ‘Community Art’. SPILL is about working with people, art that involves conversations and the working through of conflicts. It’s a principle that also runs through Pacitti Company’s ‘Finale’ pieces, performances the company creates with local artists when they perform overseas. Many of the artists programmed into SPILL have come through this process with Pacitti Company – a curatorial premise that also means there is a real international flavour to the event. And there will be a ‘Grand Finale’ to close the festival, created along the same lines.
Nevertheless, SPILL remains Robert Pacitti’s initiative. As in the ‘Finale’ shows, he is the artistic director, he has the final say. He’s chosen artists who are ‘socially engaged’, and interested in ‘the politics of representation’. The Sunday and Monday SPILLs, for example (showcases of a variety of work, from 5pm to 11pm over the Easter weekend), have an emphasis on work relating to the body: Eve Bonneau, Andrew Masseno, Hancock and Kelly. But this interpretation can also be subjective – Raimund Hoghe does not describe his work as about disability, although the use of his own body often invites the description.
And SPILL does not just feature artists who have an obvious thematic or working relationship with Pacitti himself. Given the circumstances, he argues, how could he not invite a company like Forced Entertainment to perform? ‘I had a wish list of maybe ten artists’, Pacitti says, ‘which was only capped by money.’
So does this mean that Pacitti, and his theatre company, are becoming mainstream? Are they positioning themselves at the centre of a new visibility for performance art in this country? There are, after all, plans for at least one more SPILL Festival in 2009. Pacitti sees the relationship between ‘mainstream’ and the ‘edge’ as like that between tectonic plates - constantly shifting - and emphasises the fact that he is ‘in service’ to the other artists involved. In any case, does it matter? Those categories rarely mean anything to the people who are in them, and they are never set in stone.
It does raise the question, though, of what Robert Pacitti’s role in all this is likely to be. He’s the first to admit that, though happy to work in the service of others to produce SPILL, he is first and foremost a maker himself. After the 2009 SPILL he’ll reflect on what he wants to do – concentrate on his own company or continue behind the scenes. And, straight after the Festival is all cleared up, Pacitti Company are beginning a five week tour of
Robert Pacitti describes the process of creating the festival as ‘human’ and ‘intuitive’. Now, with the support of venues, press and the art world, it’s tempting to ask why nobody’s done it before. The fact is, they did not, so SPILL is here. And, flavoured by Robert Pacitti’s tastes as it is, it’s a welcome arrival to the city.
Sheila’s agenda is stated upfront on a notice just inside the entrance to the installation “Will you wear me? Will you care for me? Will you covet me?, Will you love me?” and then the key question “Will you take me home?” The installation ‘Covet Me, Care For Me’ is hereby revealed as the cosy and respectable front for Sheila’s plot to influence the hearts, minds and homes of anyone who will agree to smash the heart-shaped glass casings, and then take home, one of the 100 plastic trinkets on display. Sheila’s agenda is, ultimately, to infiltrate the world of the precious, old and valuable with her small plastic ribbons and retro 1950’s nurses badges. The idea being that these cheap, low brow or ‘mongrel’ objects of questionable provenance will eventually- and rightfully - appear in posh vintage clothing stores, antique shops, ethnographic displays and museum collections.
Sheila admits it’s unlikely that her treasures will end up in such places. There are too many market technicalities to consider: when examined by future dealers or enthusiasts the dubious origins of her items will surely come straight back to Sheila and thus, as a nice aside, providing a powerful marketing tool and performance document for ‘Covet Me, Care For Me’. Nevertheless, it is subversive and fun to imagine these kitsch bits and bobs arriving onto the hollowed ground of The British Museum or The Antiques Roadshow. ‘Covet Me, Care For Me’ hints at discourses concerning the attribution of value and a gift economy but what matters most is the contract of desire: for those who took them, these objects must be loved and I’m sure they will be.
Eve Bonneau is naked in an alcove, her eyes shut and a single, white bulb hanging from a mike stand in front of her body. We are in one of the smaller rooms in Shunt Vaults, a dirty cave where this strange, naked woman stands like an altar statue, seemingly unaware of the gathering crowd around her. The publicity material that accompanies Eve Bonneau’s piece says she ‘explores her body with the eyes of a child’. A simple premise, but the result is more complex – and more beautiful – than you might think.
Moving the bulb around her body, Bonneau makes dramatic shapes with the bright white light and deepest shadow. It’s the only light source in the room, and its power makes parts of her seem as if they have disappeared altogether: now the ridges on her neck make a disembodied pipe, now the curves of her breasts make a beheaded bust. She turns around and lets us see the shapes thrown up by her back, moving tentatively around the bulb until she touches it, and jerks sharply away.
It’s hard to believe these beautiful shapes have not been carefully choreographed, but the idea is so simple, and Bonneau’s own gaze so intent, that is feels like we’re all taking part in a genuine discovery. And we’re discovering the power of the light as much as of the shapes it reveals. At one point, Bonneau turns out the lamp and the viewers, plunged into darkness, scramble from their hastily kneeled positions ready to follow where she’ll go next. She switches the light back on – she’s only moved a couple of feet.
The next section of the show relies on the strength of a slide projector to distort Bonneau’s shadow through a white sheet. Her body billows and rolls, at times silhouetted in perfect clarity and at times blown up like a fairy tale monster. Fantasy seems closely linked to discovery - the body both a real, physical object and the ephemeral representation of a playful mind. We, the audience, are free to overlay our own explanations for this magic.
Bonneau continues to work with the slide projector, moving under the image of a giant eye and showing close ups of herself prodding her own body. Unfortunately, at this point I was frustrated by other bodies – those of the audience. We were a larger crowd than had been anticipated, and whole swathes of the performance were invisible to me as I gazed at the backs of peoples’ heads. We were all so transfixed in the exploration of someone else’s body, we had forgotten to admit the consequences of our own bodies in space. Shuffling around in the dark, we bumped into each other silently, tripped over each other and blocked one another’s’ views of the focus of our attention.
Bonneau’s performance draws to a close with the artist lying prostrate under a red lamp as it is lowered towards her body. As it gets closer, the light flattens the contrasts in her figure, and returns it to the sculptural, fleshy form we saw at the start. But by now, we have a whole new understanding of what the body means and does. Often ‘the eyes of a child’ can be overrated, but in this case they served us well.
Using a bare light bulb, shadow play and digital projections to variously touch, distort and illuminate her bare flesh Bonneau performs childlike, raw and naive fascinations into the strangeness of her own body. In order to achieve this strangeness Bonneau attempts to adopt an unprejudiced analytic position concerning the reality of her body. In doing so ‘Body is the First Word I Say’ interrogates what it means to be, or think of being, a Subject by placing presupposition under the microscope. Bonneau asks the question: Who, what and where is this body, this I that I examine?
The projected close-ups of anatomical parts in ‘Body is the First Word I Say’ clearly refer to the abject body: the familiar, sensuous yet horrifying folds of skin and the liquid that oozes out of its orifices. In addition, video images of broken mirrors reflecting disjointed and at times unidentifiable body fragments conjure up the surrealist photography of Hans Bellmer and Man Ray. Bonneau dealt with all these different narratives with a lightness of touch that stayed just the right side of ephemeral. But her greatest achievement is the transformation of each fold and mound of flesh on her body into an event, a surprising one, both for her and the audience.
Bonneau’s curiosity about the body is beyond identity politics or narcissism. Neither is it body as autobiography or body as physical memory. It is a thoughtful exploration into the boundaries of a priori knowledge and the antecedent that allows the artist distance from her own body and its I in order to reflect upon those two distinct levels of consciousness. In ‘Body is the First Word I Say’ Bonneau demonstrates the courage to subject herself to this radical insecurity, to inhabit I by exposing its inherent pre-supposition, and in doing so she comes a little closer to realising the nature of our linguistic and physical selves.
Rachel Lois Clapham
Im dining with SPILL on the 12th. My worry is not the food, but the fact that live artists can be unpredictable in the sense that their work necessarily leaks into their non-work (is there such a thing) life in fascinating and engaging, sometimes frightening ways. Over the course of a few brief years i have been surprised by Live Art/Artists on many occasion in what i thought was a non-performance, personal or private sitauation. Nothing, it seems, is out of reach of live art happenings, and i think this is a good thing, but it does play on my nerves. The ticket sales lady at the Soho Theatre shared my doubts when i booked my Feast ticket. 'You are brave booking for that' ... (dear god what have i done). So, what will happen on thursday? Will i be eating with anyone I have seen naked? (answer: most definitely). Will anyone do anything 'weird' that transgresses the boundary of normal dinner beha viour (probably, but let it not be me). All these things and more i shall find out on thursday -and post them here on Friday pm. Despite the nerves i'm looking forward to it.
ps. If you see me on thurs, please say hello!
Given that eating was the central act of the evening, I feel compelled to tell you what we actually ate: the Feast’s main course was a selection of fresh, homemade Mediterranean style food including chickpea and olive salad, couscous, vegetable flatbreads, grilled chicken breasts and fresh salmon rolls with tartar sauce, amongst others. For dessert there were large slices of chocolate gateaux, strawberry cheesecake and fruit. There was also a complimentary after-dinner drink of Cognac and Baileys. (Yum) For those of you who are yet to dine with SPILL it was well worth the money.
Despite live art circles being quite tight- this not necessarily through any want of being a clique or niche but perhaps more to do with how Live and performance work is classified, (under) funded and publicised- there were lots of new faces and friends to be made at Feast. I sat down inbetween Charlie Fox (artist and producer) and visual artist Marcel Berlanger (co-collaborator with sister Francoise Berlanger of ‘Penthesilea’). Conversation flowed freely, but had it not, there were small conversational prompts made available by our artist-hostesses. These were printed cards with questions such as ‘What is the longest durational performance you have ever seen?’ or ‘What is most important or exciting thing about Live Art for you?’
Aside from the cards, the other overt reference to this event being different to an archetypal 'feast' was that prior to entering the theatre-cum-dining-room every guest was given a single rose: white for SPILL artists, red for everyone else. The significance of marking us this way was to enable people to make connections and put artists’ names to faces. Such touches reference the fact that although Feast is not staged as a performance per se it is , of course, knowingly and carefully scripted for maximum effect within the context of the SPILL Festival.
The SPILL and New Work Network recipe for Feast is a simple and effective one, designed to deliver the real business of the evening. The aim is to stage a space for informal debate, to create a community and to break down the boundary between performer and audience whilst simultaneously introducing new people to the genre via cheap and tasty food. It also gives artists the all too rare chance to meet and socialise properly with their public and as such Feast is an important addition to the festival programme.
Forced Entertainment: after last nights' performance at Soho Theatre this experimental theatre groups name has never made more sense. Twin the name with the title of the show, 'Exquisite Pain', and you have some idea of what is at stake in this work. In Exquisite Pain the audience are locked in the theatre for an excruciatingly long two and a half hours of repeated monologue with two actors and only the minimal of visual references to distract. In addition, there is no nipping in and out as with other-albeit longer-durational performances. Instead, viewing is compulsory. This compulsion reveals Forced Entertainments sadistic nature, it also highlights the masochistic motivations of some audience members who clearly enjoy every drawn out moment. However, the tangible pain that results from experiencing Exquisite Pain has a clear purpose: Forced Entertainment subjects its audience to this hurt in order to ask the question 'what happens, what is produced, in the continual repeatition of the same plot?' 'Is anything repeated in performance ever the same?' and 'How long is too long for a theatre play?'
On stage the similar but different versions of artist Sophie Calles story of her relationship break-up move through a female narrator in various impersonal, invested, desperate or optimistic tones. The repetition of the story raises various theoretical points. One is that the repetition of the story performs the questions of repetition and simulacra itself: where is the original, as opposed to the copy, or more importantly where is the truth located within these repetitions? The other point clearly questions the linguistic possibilities of repetition: is a repetition, whether enacted or uttered, ever such, or ever simple, or is it both structurally and content-wise a different and singular event each time?
In addition to Calles' break-up story, a male narrator tells shorter and often more anecdotal tales from contributors who accepted Calles’ invitation to detail "the time that they suffered the most". The two different monologues clearly infect one other on a surface level but if you look deeper for significant traces, similarities or affects from one to another it will take a (very) long time and you will inevitably get tangled up in either stories huge amount of detail. The failure to draw clear lines between the two sets parts of Exquisite Pain is important. Instead of focussing solely on the stories' main picture - death, loss and grief - a certain 'looking away' is emphasised. Whether it be the red telephone in Calles' room at the Imperial Hotel or the nail-head on the coffin of the male narrators dead Dad, the script focuses in great detail on the side-glances, in-between moments and the corners of vision and mind that remain unnoticed and meaningless in an everyday context but in times of extreme pain or anxiety take on a significance that belies their marginal nature. Importantly, these same in-between details offer hope in each of the respective stories: the red phone may ring and thus bring back Calles' ex-boyfriend, the coffin nails might be prised open and the dead Dad will come back to life.
Rachel Lois Clapham
Forced Entertainment’s ‘Exquisite Pain’ occupies a bare set – two tables, two chairs, two television sets, and two actors, who remain seated throughout the performance. The actors, one woman and one man, take it in turns to tell a story. The woman starts, with details of the end of her love affair, and the man follows. The woman’s story is always the same, though she breathes in and bleeds out details depending on her changing reactions to the events, but the man channels other people’s stories. He inhabits the memories of an orphaned child, a bereft mother, a young man facing conscription. In this way, the form of the piece is quickly established: alternation, repetition, alternation, repetition. And the enjoyment that comes from the next two hours (with no interval) in a packed Soho Theatre comes from the minute developments in each story, and the heartfelt pathos of the stories themselves.
But then, I knew what to expect. Unlike most of the audience, I have read the book by Sophie Calle from which Forced Entertainment’s dialogue is lifted almost verbatim. Sitting in the crowded theatre, I know that the woman’s story will be repeated 99 times, and that her retellings will become more factual and anecdotal as the accompanying stories became more intimate and evocative. Crucially, I also know the reason for all this repetition. Calle, the woman who suffered the heartbreak, decided to tell people how she felt and ask them to describe a similar anguish, ‘until I had got over my pain by comparing it to other people’s, or had worn out my story through sheer repetition.’
I don’t remember this being made clear in Forced Entertainment’s production, and so the act of sitting through it becomes one of endurance. Like Calle herself, it is impossible to know when the experience will end, although it’s fascinating to observe the nuances in how it’s retold – sometimes in painful detail; sometimes in stark fact, like the setting for a play. In each reiteration of the same events, the woman reveals a little more about her relationships, her personality, how she is coping. And in each new notification from an unnamed stranger, we are briefly privy to a cast of other characters, a whole world of other possibilities.
But without the context provided in the book, the performance on stage seems to lack development or direction. The 99 comparisons of pain make up a small part of Calle’s book, cushioned with autobiography, personal photographs, love letters and enough back-story to at least partially excuse her indulgence. Here, conveyed without this context and in a plain, conversational style the stories seem both selfish (on the woman’s part) and distanced (on the man’s). Although Forced Entertainment echo the simplicity of the book’s layout in the simple set, there is no performative equivalent for the preciousness of the intricately designed publication, or the visual clues like, for example, the fading text as Calle’s pain wanes. That’s not to say the performance should reproduce the book in theatrical form, but that something important is lost in the transition from highly personal fetish-object to unauthored, uncalibrated script.
On stage, it’s still tantalising to hear the details of other people’s stories – their most intimate, revealing secrets exposed in a few simple lines. But without the autobiographical context, it’s easy to focus on what makes these stories distant – they all take place in
Judging by the fidgeting and shuffling of the people around me, I wasn’t the only one. Forced Entertainment’s characteristically conversational tone falls flat in the presence of such a heavily authored text. In other productions, this approach displays the potency of language – sneaking up on you behind the façade of an everyday conversation. But here the facelessness of the delivery devalues the carefully chosen words. Both reading from scripts, the actors dissolve the artifice that these are their thoughts, their feelings, and I feel an overwhelming desire to be left alone with the just the language itself.
Perhaps I’ve been sullied by knowledge of the book – reading and watching are very different experiences, and neither ensures quality. The rhythm maintained by the production on stage certainly makes the anguish of pain feel keener – and it makes the relief when it goes more tangible. As the performance eventually comes to a close, the audience sigh audibly and head to the toilet.
Grand Finale is developed in close collaboration with each of the performers, as such it is constantly shifting. So far there have been some intruiging aspects in this weeks workshops: 'bin bag heads', Dog-like 'Boys' choreography, songs, kinky silver boots and jamlicking. The 'final' version will necessarily be more advanced come Saturday or Sunday, when it is re-lived to perform the closure of the SPILL Festival 2007, but rest assured Grand Finale will be every bit political, dark, poignant and involved as Zola's original novel. The underground venue has a unique brand of industrial shabby chic and definite sense of creepiness will necessarily have its impact on London's specially blended mix of Finale. See you there....
Image: SPILL Festival presents 'Grand Finale'
Grand Finale opens with an invitation to be absorbed into artifice. An elegantly dressed woman stands on stage wearing a muzzle like a lab animal. She’s a fiction, she tells us, and she asks us to make her up. Next the male performers make their entrance, naked along a brightly lit catwalk. Once on stage they put on suits – literally, stepping into character.
What follows is not character-driven, although we do get a brief plot summary of Therese Raquin, Zola’s nineteenth century novel from which Finale’s themes are drawn. Instead, it’s a heady, sensory series of vignettes, inhabiting and retreating from the shadowy spaces in the Shunt vaults. A man pours red wine violently over his head and up his nose; behind him, a woman wraps a wet cloth round another man’s face, obscuring his features. A couple face each other, picking a white substance like dead skin off each other’s body; another couple engage in a violent dance over a pig’s heart.
This all includes some obvious echoes of the novel – gluttony, cruelty, drowning and entrapment. But, clothed in evening dress and looming in and out of the shadows, the performers enact these traits as part of the general human condition, rather than specific character flaws. As a result, the loose choreography of the performances takes on an eerie innevitability – all the more effective given our introdution, which suggested this was the product of our very own imaginations.
Despite the sombre tone and sometimes gruesome actions, Grand Finale doesn’t feel negative. The richness of the performances and the depth of symbolism – some elements more legible than others – creates a world that is strangely fulfilling, if not exactly pleasant. And although, like the best nineteenth century novels, the complexity of the actions suggests a world of rules beyond our control, it’s also tempered with human doubt and frailty. When a woman climbs over bricks on a table she looks like a feminine Godzilla, but then she stumbles and wobbles in her heels – a reminder that circumstance can sometimes drive events, as well as intention.
Grand Finale was the final showpiece of SPILL Festival, the literal finale to Robert Pacitti’s curated event and a vast collaboration between many of the artists who had performed over the previous three weeks. As such, it was a fitting testament to the creativity that comes out of the work of a community, as well as to the familiar touch of Robert Pacitti himself. Audience members had their hands washed at the end of the show – a kind of ablution to return us to mundane reality, I assume, and not, I hope, the end of the SPILL Festival forever.