Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The End of Dramturgy: Ewan Downie and Anna Porubcansky

The End of Things is the spellbinding new performance from Glasgow’s celebrated ‘laboratory theatre’ ensemble Company of Wolves. Combining theatre, dance, music, and improvisation, and performed by a cast of five disciplined, physically daring actors, it is a show about beginnings and endings - about love, loss and saying goodbye.

The fourth show from the fearlessly experimental collective is abstract, surreal and unsettling in places, but also lyrical and profoundly moving. Conceived as a collective, led by co-founders Ewan Downie (who directs once more) and Anna Porubcansky (who provides the dreamlike sound design), it is a deeply collaborative piece. The cast - Robin Hellier, Beth Kovarik, Jonathan Peck, Emily Phillips and Liz Strange - have all been through the rigorous physical training which is the company’s signature, and have produced a kinetic, emotional work which is as accessible as it is visceral and dynamic.

Submerged in the beauty, simplicity, and poignancy held in the smallest moments in life, The End of Things combines exciting movement with compelling vignettes that explore the extraordinary in the everyday. Relationships emerge and dissolve; dreams, soft and beautiful, morph into surreal absurdity. 

Echoes of decay and regeneration, of intimacy, loss, desire and longing permeate the stage. A moving tapestry of haunting imagery, intense yet elegant physical exchanges, and ethereal, cinematic vistas of sound and lighting: The End of Things is quite unlike any other theatre show you will see this year.

As with their last, critically acclaimed show A Brief History of Evil, this is a performance for the curious, the adventurous – for those in love with life, the world, and human nature. Elegiac, life-affirming and strange, it will stay with you long beyond the end of the performance.


Ewan and Anna

Apart from that one time I got on the wrong bus, I've been following your work for a while - I think I even saw your first piece as a scratch. Aside from reminding everyone how dedicated I am as a critic, this has allowed me to see a development in your work - and your most recent tour was on a slightly smaller scale than usual. Is this going to be more like your earlier work - or where does it fit into your progress?

Ewan: In that there’s a slightly larger company of 5 performers, yes, this piece is closer to our earlier work. Stylistically we think it’s quite different - we’ve been really surprised and delighted with the material the company has created.

Anna: It’ll be interesting to hear how you place it in a larger trajectory! For us, The End of Things is the natural development from Invisible Empire and Seven Hungers. We learn things as we go, and each new project is fed by the discoveries of what went before.

Ewan: So The End of Things is definitely shaped by our earlier pieces. But it is also a product of our current fascinations and obsessions which change over time - although intimacy and the ways it can go wrong seem to run through most of our work to date. In the case of The End of Things, one of the things we wanted to look at is the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, the world, each other - our dreams - and how they can be born and die.

I know this is a real stereotypical question - and I have probably asked it too often - but how do you feel your work meshes with manipulate's particular identity?

Ewan: One of the things we have in common with many of the artists that perform at manipulate is an interest in non-linear storytelling. We aim for our work to be a space to dream, both for ourselves and for the audience, and that means not closing down interpretations, not making shows where there’s a ‘right answer’ to what’s going on.

Years ago, I remember going to see the amazing circus Archaos somewhere in Glasgow and being transported by the show. But what struck me most was when I looked over at a guy sitting on his own a few seat over on those wooden bleachers. He was dressed like an office worker in suit and tie, the last person you’d expect to see at a punk French circus night. And he was openly weeping, tears streaming down his face. I felt then that somehow that show gave this guy the space to experience something he deeply needed. I hope our shows can do the same for someone, sometime.

It’s also true that manipulate is programming more and more Scottish artists from the physical and visual performance scene here, people like Al Seed, Sita Pieraccini, Melanie Jordan, Tortoise in a Nutshell. Though our work is very different from all of these artists, there are also shared interests and points of contact.

When I am talking about abstract modes of performance, I often end up dancing around the point, so here we go with a direct question: do you have a particular story to tell with this show?

Ewan: Yes and no. We were interested in endings, and in the fact that really, endings only exist because stories exist. There are key points in our lives - the beginning of a relationship, a divorce, a death - these are stories we tell and retell to try and make sense of them. Things only end from our perspective, from the perspective of the universe, matter forms and reforms, things change, but nothing ends.

It’s only from our point of view as story-making creatures that things end. We also wanted to look at how these stories, these dreams of how the world is, can themselves die, or break, or fail. Some people think that we’re in a time where the cultural stories we tell ourselves - that we’re progressing towards a better and better world for example - are failing and need to be replaced. Is that a yes? Probably not. There aren’t any stories told in the show, but it is saturated with stories, and the worlds of stories. Is that an answer?

How would you describe the 'training process' for the cast?

Ewan: We do a lot of individual and group work to free our bodies and imaginations simultaneously, so that the impulses of the imagination can move us without the rational mind getting in the way. We do this work through the body and through the voice. The devising of a show is also in itself a kind of training - in working together.

We improvise daily so that we trust each other in the space and can play together well. The aim is that we can, both individually and collectively, go to places we’ve never been before. I sometimes think about the training as learning to drive the mind offroad. As in, at some point you have to turn the wheel into the jungly undergrowth and you need to learn to take the bumps and potholes and trust yourself and your partners that you’ll be ok.

What kind of music can we expect?

Anna: The sounds of dreams, the sounds of space, unconscious sound, deceiving sound, the sound that exists between people - the unheard music that lives in the space between people.

I know that you have a background in Polish theatre, but does Company of Wolves have a Scottish aspect to their work?

Anna: Absolutely. We live here, so it’s inevitable that it will seep into the work. For this show particularly, we were really struck by Glasgow as a city: the grit and the old grandeur, abandoned buildings and boarded up windows amidst thriving communities… It’s the city that’s finding its way into our work, it feels. The city, and also the space. The hills, the islands. We’ve been lucky to do a lot of travelling around Scotland in the last couple of years. And every time we head out, we’re both struck by how stunning this country is, and how vastly different the landscape is from region to region.

Last time we were out together, we ended up stumbling into the Assynt peninsula. That place is unlike anything I had ever seen. And then just up from there, you end up in total wind-swept desolation on the northern coast. Crazy, crazy beautiful in such different ways. And then there’s Glasgow. Totally down-to-earth city. Gritty, human, alive. We love it here. Over time, these things are starting to feel like they have a stronger hold on us than the Polish landscape.

Ewan: Also the Polish artistic tradition that gave rise to the laboratory theatre companies is quite different than the tradition here. There’s hardly any Scottish polyphonic tradition except the Gaelic Psalms of Lewis for example - but the folk tradition is based around storytelling songs. The theatre landscape in Scotland is heavily dominated by new writing. These things seep into our artistic consciousness, both as things to appropriate aspects of, or things to react against. Since we set up the company in 2012, it feels like the shape of our approach to making work and training has changed profoundly through our engagement with Scottish landscapes, both literal and artistic, but if you asked us to put how it’s changed into words, I don’t think we could. Maybe you could?


Cast: Robin Hellier, Beth Kovarik, Jonathan Peck,
Emily Phillips, Liz Strange
Director: Ewan Downie
Set & Costume Design: Ana Ines Jabares-Pita
Initial Lighting Design: Lex Burnhams
Tour Lighting Design: Alberto Santos-Bellido
Sound Design: Anna Porubcansky

Company of Wolves is a groundbreaking laboratory theatre company based in Glasgow, formed in 2012 by Ewan Downie and Anna Porubcansky. We use elements of theatre, dance, music, and improvisation to create performances that shed light on what it means to be human.

Ewan Downie (Director) is an award-winning director, writer and actor, working worldwide in experimental theatre and performance. Ewan was a member of Poland’s renowned Song of the Goat Theatre from 2006-2012, devising and performing in Macbeth (2006-2012), The Crucible (2010), and Songs of Lear (2011-12), for which he won both a Fringe First and a Herald Archangel. Recent projects include Achilles (in development), A Brief History of Evil, The End of Things, Seven Hungers, and Invisible Empire for Company of Wolves; Cruzadas (National Theatre, Portugal); Hidden Birds (La Virgule, France).

Anna Porubcansky (Sound Designer) is a musician and performer whose training includes classical and choral singing, natural voice and vocal anatomy (Kristin Linklater, Roy Hart Theatre, Alexander Technique). She works as a music director, voice coach and live sound designer, blending traditional song and experimental electronic music. She also holds a PhD in ensemble theatre and the creation of community from Goldsmiths, University of London. Recent performances include Song Cycle at Scot:Lands (Edinburgh's Hogmanay 2015); Chemikal Underground's Duke Street Expo (2014); Cruzadas (National Theatre, Portugal) and for Company of Wolves, Seven Hungers and Invisible Empire.
The End of Things Trailer from Company of Wolves on Vimeo.

The End of Things by Company of Wolves is supported by The National Lottery through Creative Scotland in association with CCA, The Work Room, and Platform. This performance is part of manipulate Visual Theatre Festival produced by Puppet Animation Scotland. 

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