Tuesday, 18 December 2012

It's The Vile Top Seven: Number Seven

On The Radio Hour, top DJ and sound engineer at the coolest parties, Josh Hill correctly complained that the annual Hot Lists tend to miss out the personal - as he putting it, "more huffing of poppers outside the Old Hairdressers" and less grand statements about the state of the nation. In this spirit, I wrote a highly personal top ten. Then I realised that "five great text messages" won't end up on anyone's publicity material.

As a compromise, and a sop to my massive ego, I am going to identify the seven top trends in my thinking. This will allow me to mention as many events as I like, and still make it all about me. I challenge the artists mentioned to include my shout out to them in their next application for funding.

Trend no. 7: My Continued Inability to Integrate a Political Consciousness into my Aesthetic Critique.

Fond as I am of banging on about alienation, I still struggle to see the best way for political philosophy to appear within performance. The highly dramatic boycott of Israeli company Batsheva Dance made a passionate appeal on behalf of the Palestinian people, but managed to piss off plenty of liberal critics who found it intrusive (the show was stopped by chanting groups inside the auditorium) and hypocritical (The Russian ballet company up the road didn't get any attention, despite having a state that enjoys oppressing minorities, too).

There are arguments on both sides - mostly focussing on the exact relationship between Batsheva's tour and the amount of funding provided by the Israeli government - but life would easier if the choreographer in question wasn't both brilliant and personally ambivalent about the antics of his government.

While this was the most publicised political action in the arts - it had  similar heavy duty support that would give the weight to the complaints against Creative Scotland - politics has entered the theatre in more interesting ways - Kieran Hurley and AJ Taudevin had a look at the London riots for their entry at Oran Mor's Play, Pie, Pint programme, Make Better Please saw the previously personal Uninvited Guests strain against the build up of media inspired despair, and Lyn Gardner wrote a blog about political theatre in the Guardian. Alan Bissett, wearer of a very cool leather jacket, made explicit his support for an independent Scotland and David Greig set up a dialogue about national identity in his sequel to Macbeth.

In the time that I began writing criticism, the political was on the back-foot. Perhaps it was the amount of money, or moral support, being thrown at the artists under New Labour. Perhaps it was the emphasis on personal politics - like in the version of Wuthering Heights now being prepped for The Arches' Platform 18 Awards, the study of the self and identity was seen as far more important. Unfortunately, I am about to be left behind, having embraced that path - I am still more interested in art as a mirror of the audience than as a manifesto for a better world. But if Greig, Bissett, Taudevin and Hurley are investigating it, I am willing to believe that political theatre is making a comeback and is now relevant.

Glasgow Girls at the Citizens was also the first agit-prop musical that had a dub 7" handed out at the door - its good humoured mix of local history (it covered the campaign to protect asylum seekers), multi-cultural dance numbers and poignant satire made me reconsider both the musical and the theatre as a direct forum for political opinion.

Of course, I have been told by a dear and old friend that "everything is politics," and my continued insistence on the primacy of aesthetics is, in itself, an immoral conservatism. I am hoping that Arika hurry up with their next weekend of engaged readings and gigs. Their Special Form of Darkness weekender had a mixture of serious Marxist analysis and fun nihilism, which suits my anarchist instincts.

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