Saturday, 25 February 2012

Criticulous' Spring Break

Kristina Nitsolova
Dig It!

When is a performance not a performance. For Nitslova, it is when it goes beyond the simple mechanics of a play or improvisation and actually acts on the world. In this charming site specific show, Nitslova literally ploughs the earth and scatters the good seed on the land. Her audience of young people are enthralled by her soft enthusiasm and fascinating explanations of how they, too, are part of the environment that she cares about so deeply. For connoisseurs of performance, she amazes by her dual ability to farm and act at the same time.

Throughout the production, Nitslova talks directly to the audience and tends the earth: when she walks away, and invites the crowd to follow, she leads them to a remarkable vista that supports her repeated assertions about the beauty of the planet. Her recurrent musings on how the individual is not so separate, that the social connections we might echo the natural connections of an ecosystem are pointed and trenchant. her message may be revolutionary, but it tempered by her mild manner.

Nitslova’s tour of Dig It! is, thankfully, going global: with only a small capacity, each show is tailored to the group. For a show that insists on such hard physical work from the performer, and has an immediate impact on the very ground that hosts it, Dig It! is beautifully conceived and charmingly executed.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Criticulous' Ultimate Trance

Louise Ahl

It is impossible to tell, thanks to the non-stop manic energy which is tempered by a sweet sensitivity, that this is Ahl’s first Broadway musical. The topic - the life of Elizabethan occultist Edward Kelley - may seem unpromising. However, the success of the single, No, It’s Not!, seems to have ensured a steady stream of full houses. Quite how Ahl then turned this tale into a frenetic two hours that references everything from children’s theatre through to contemporary dance - and holds the audience’s attention completely - is sheer magic.

Kelley, often regarded as a chancer or a rogue, is here seen as simply out-of-time and bemused by a rapidly changing society. Clueless about what he sees, and making increasingly absurd predictions. The script has little sympathy for the supposed hero: humiliations are heaped upon Kelley’s head, sometimes comic, sometimes tragic. The lurking stranger, who leads him into deeper waters, is never benevolent, despite frequently promising that only good can come of his advice.

Ahl’s take on musical theatre is unsurprisingly hyper-kinetic, jumping genres and frequently tottering on the edge of mayhem. The use of music - the drum solos are stunning  - and the ready wit of the speeches rescues the action from disorder, leaving behind an impression of a bold new focus for a genre that was itself on the precipice of obsolescence.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Bekka Saeter
Zealand Variations

Back in the bad old days, territorial disputes were settled by having a fight, or sometimes a shouting match at the United Nations. Yet latterly, mankind has been schooled by the bonobo in conflict resolution, recognising that cooperation trumps even the most entertaining ruckus. And so, the so-called Fish Finger War between Scotland and Norway has led to Saeter being handed the keys to Caledonia’s national ballet company’s garage. Zealand Variations is the result of this collaboration, a mash up of post-modern dance and classical technique that quite literally stopped a bigger North European mash up of guns and bodies.

Saeter cleverly avoids making too much direct reference to the grounds of the conflict. Instead, she has a male soloist, carrying a clipboard and constantly smiling, represent the Scottish government, and a series of ethereal women for Norway. Each variation is a pas de deux between the two sides: the male is increasingly exhausted, but the women constantly refreshed. Whether this is a wry comment on the potential nature of any real conflict is moot, since the finale - when the corps des ballets appear in a newsroom and lift the male high above them - is filled with reconciliation and joy.

The alliances here are as thrilling aesthetically as politically. Saeter does not compromise her eclectic movement vocabulary, using the grace of the ballet trained company to elongate and extend their range. By finding the path between elegance and ugliness, Saeter is re-imagining ballet not as a museum piece, but as a tool for contemporary exploration.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Radio Hour Past

The Radio Hour just doesn't feel the same without my producer Harry. I mean, I still get the guests - and if Harry had seen the number of people in the studio during my interview with 85a, I am pretty sure he would have had a few choice words. But my rambling meditations on the nature of art and music, as well as my epic fail musical choices, don't have the same enthusiasm without Harry's polite words of condemnation.

Despite it being Friday the 13th, the show went well: Howie Reeve is an engaging interviewee, and he seems to be on a one man crusade to encourage cross-platform art across Scotland. He left me a copy of the latest Tattie Toes' album - he refused to play any tracks from it on air, so I slipped them in after he left - and talke about his various improvisation and promotion projects. I felt rather lazy after realising that he was currently involved in ten different activities.

85a have become one of my favourite... now, what would I call them? Visual art collective - but that ignores the cinematic aspects of their Big Nights Out. Extended Cinema Crew - but what about the mechanical opera they did last year? Post-soviet industrial surrealists? Any way, they turned up in force and left me a patch for my denim jacket, advertising Chernozem.

Chernozem has been the secret project that 85a have been developing in the past few years, running about various wastelands and dressing up in all manner of outfits - I imagine that is like what would happen if the Soviet Union had gone into making monster movies. And even though Judd Bruke has spent all his time and money on directing, the rest of the collective just had to make it into something more.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Criticulous goes Wild

Sarah Hopfinger
Loves Great Adventure

It is quite a mark of Hopfinger’s genius that she took her original inspiration from a crap Ultravox single: it is even more unnerving that she weaves the music of Midge Ure and old science fiction movies into such a determinedly personal narrative. Her spoken introduction sets out her stall. Feeling isolated and alone, she embarked on a journey through music, taking random choices from a selection offered to her by friends and colleagues, to see whether she could find hidden connections.

From this simple start, Hopfinger embraces the major themes of the age: the tension between the outsider and society - a tension where both sides accept complicit approval yet claim to abhore; the desire to travel in societies seriously yet without leaving behind damage or unnecessary change; the overwhelming impact of western music on other cultures. Hopfinger is naturally attuned to her environmental responsibilities. This is, she proudly concludes, a carbon neutral production and what starts as a dry recitation of facts about how she achieves this becomes the rousing centre-piece.

Part call to arms, part intimate recollection of one woman’s past, Loves Great Adventure is all about the importance of the apparently mundane. It even redeems Midge Ure’s silly moustache from the dustbin of fashion history.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

More From The Performance Critic

Finn Aschavir
His Dark Materials @ GFT

Aschavir has always had a strong moral centre in his work: whether toying with photography or building entire online networks that fold in on themselves to create endless feedback loops (that famously made the entire Internet break for twenty minutes), he has sought to expose the absurdity of lazy assumptions and, like a post-modern David Bowie, shattered and reconstructed his own image relentlessly.

His Dark Materials is not a retrospective, as expected, but an entire new direction. Starting with a simple sound collage, Aschavir occupies the cinema with noise and bright imagery, before sliding into a more relaxed and immersive colection of found sounds and monochrome stills. Whispered confessions, fragments of interviews with performance superstars - including one memorable ramble from Foxy and Hush - slip in and out of audibility, wryly commenting on both the myths around Aschavir and the more general myths about art.

Despite the ironic, bricolage exterior, there is a gentle charm in His Dark Materials. It celebrates the ordinary, and the bravery of everyday life by parodying the antics of the good and great, holding them to the light and letting them become over-exposed. In the fitting final frames, the screen itself seems to burn, leaving only the warm glow of regard that moves between Aschavir and his delighted audience.