Saturday, 6 September 2014

Pushing Boundaries: Arches Live! 2009


Since Jackie Wylie took over at The Arches, it has pushed the boundaries of drama towards Live Art: the rebranding of the Spring festival as Behaviour, an increase in the number of RSAMD graduates presenting work, a jaunt across to the Fringe with the challenging Trilogy – where it caused a pleasing controversy. Arches Live! kicked off this year with risks. Young artists, some barely out of further education, dominated the Saturday night. Pleasingly, they offered the most consistent evening of any Arches festival yet.

Although the subjects ranged from internet dating to family relationships, the quality and attention to detail was shared across the shows. And if the formats blew a hole in pre-conceived notions of what makes entertainment, the sincerity and professionalism kept the audience involved. The obvious budget constraints and challenge of The Arches’ space – the train rumbles and cold, brick walls could turn a Pavilion pantomime into a meditation on urban isolation – were used against themselves.

Chip came from Glas(s) Performance, the team behind the charming Junction 25. Like Junction 25’s work, Chip dealt with family: this time, the relationship between founder Jess Thorpe and her dad. Thorpe and her father drew a moving picture of their friendship, stuttering over the misunderstandings but celebrating their shared qualities, from nice arses to enthusiasm for risks. In little over an hour, Thorpe snr revealed his love for his daughter, without ever pretending to be able to understand everything about her. Jess Thorpe – taking the lead in the performance art activities - homed in on those details that created their bond, even as she confessed to adolescent tempers.

While intensely personal, Chip caught the universal ties between fathers and daughters, telling a simple, specific story and finding its resonance. Kieran Hurley’s Hitch did the same thing, this time in a far more political and global context. By telling of his journey to the Italian G8 summit, Hurley avoided the anti-capitalist clich├ęs and revealed a personal vision of protest and engagement. The subtle musical backing, the slide shows and video snatches – perfectly edited for the YouTube generation – spoke of his idealism, his fear, and never hiding the emotional behind bravado.

Downstairs, Your Are Not With Me was an intimate show for two audience members. Made up of internet chat sequences, it grappled with the loneliness of online daters, the problems of virtual love and larger questions about attraction and – albeit mildly – obsession. Without condemning, it presented the looming neediness that cowers behind long email conversations, the gradual unfolding of personality and the crushing disappointment of eventual rejection.

If Midland Street failed to live up to the other performances, it was only because it was subsumed into the mayhem of Death Disco. Made up of a series of performance installations, it felt tangential to the fun of the night-club and lacked a real connection to either the space or the event. The fighting animals were funny, the full scale poker games distracting, and it included the club in the festival – and the festival in the art – without ever making the link clear. After three shows of casual excellence, it was muted.

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