Saturday, 13 October 2012

It's going to get worse and worse and worse, my friend

Thank God somebody walked out of Tramway's triple bill. I was starting to worry that Tim Nunn's programming had become respectable - sell-out shows, Michael Clark's new work getting respect both as a community project and an aesthetic experience - but the familiar sound of a disgruntled audience member stomping down the stairs to the exit a few minutes before the end reassured me that it still has that special edge.

I am always going to be prejudiced for Tramway: I learnt about performance there during the early years of this century, when the programme was dominated by Belgian choreography and New Territories took up residence in the spring, and these days, I teach the Young Critics class there. It has an international reputation - doing research on the venue's past, I found that it had more respect in Europe than in Scotland, although there are dedicated souls who still whisper excitedly of performances seen in its heyday: Les Ballets C de la B, Victoria, Peter Brook...

It's going to get worse and worse and worse, my friend - departing audience members notwithstanding - had all the signifiers of great Tramway programming. Soloist and choreographer Lisbeth Gruwez comes from Belgium, and danced with Ultima Vez, Jan Fabre, C de la B and Needcompany, who have all stormed the Southside in the last decade. Stringent, intelligent, frustrated and articulate, it strips theatre back to the disciplined body moving to and against a soundtrack: the lighting a single rectangle of white, the music a symphony of cut-up and remixed voices and compositions - triumphantly emerging into Arvo Part's Tabula Rasa.

The magic of Tramway is to provide, simultaneously, a space that is intimate and epic. Isolated in her tiny square, Gruwez is dwarfed by the majesty of the Brook Wall (it looms behind her, spectacular and sinister in the darkness) but close enough to the audience that her slightest gesture is clear and immediate. Working with a variety of different systems - bits of ballet, more contemporary styles, a trace of street - Gruwez responds to the cut up of Jimmy Swaggert's emotional sermons with a dance that becomes increasingly desperate and deconstructed.

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