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.