Archive for the 'video' Category

Hatch: Scratch (Part Three): Sounds, Sandbags and Summations

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

With this third and final instalment of the Hatch:Scratch report, it’s evident that the night had a lot of variety in its performative DNA: how could an evening that encompassed cabaret songs about clinical depression, a dating game and a woman sitting in isolation, sewing miniature sandbags for four hours straight (we’ll hear more of Martina Vermorel later) be described as anything else but various? Within that, the featured works also ran with some key shared ideas. Some of these have been discussed elsewhere: a tendency to value the unfinished and open-ended and a fairly consistent grounding of work in a making public of very personal (or, at least, seemingly personal) experience, for example.

But other concerns are equally visible. One of these notable tendencies is a blurring between real and theatrical experience, with performers often playing versions of themselves and recounting subject matter that appears to be direct testimony from a life lived offstage, even when it isn’t: a kind of confessional or documentary aesthetic. Another tendency is towards episodic and fragmentary forms, performances that seem to be gatherings of loosely connected scenes and ideas rather than more overtly constructed edifices. There’s a liking for unpredictability, and the way that this can lead to works with their participatory elements made central, drawing the audience not towards the edges, but often into the deeper structures of a piece.

tatty-del: “It’s very important to look at a therapist’s bookshelf…”

One further tendency notable throughout Hatch: Scratch is the almost obligatory device of not only breaking but refusing to acknowledge any ‘fourth wall’ we might have imagined to be present, a set of approaches that often leads to work whose outward appearance is casually literal but whose more artful constructions and deceptions might only be revealed in the delivery. The collaboration between performers Natalie Clarke and Hana Tait known as tatty-del  is certainly one very clear example of this, as the two women begin by treating the audience as a kind of therapist, and launch into a discussion of their own relationship, a collaboration active since 2006 and grounded in a friendship that the professional partnership may now be undermining. One character seems idealistic and hopeful, the other more downbeat, treating the session and its aspirations with a dry scepticism. The impression is built of something that hovers between a blunt slice of reality, as the women argue over roles and attitudes, yet also begins to take on some of the qualities of a traditional comedy double-act (tatty-del’s template might include anything from French & Saunders to Vladimir & Estragon, with a few echoes of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton thrown in for good measure). As the duo discuss their own relationship, then move towads re-enactments of past scenes that have shaped their present behaviour, we’re never quite able to work out how much here is literally true and how much entirely artificial. One section begins with the young women recalling memories that quickly expose themselves as sitcom scenarios, even as others seem bluntly literal in their truth to the lives of the performers themselves. tatty-del are making it work felt very much like the brief excerpt from a longer project it was, and it’ll be interesting to see how a more elaborated version works in building on the potential of the characters, regrets and formative situations it portrays. Perhaps the slightly absurd cliffhanger ending also supported a feeling that tatty-del keep in play many possibilities for the extended version: elements of lo-fi soap, outright comedy and poignant drama are here, and all the doors are held open for further development.

Strandlooper: “…it was exquisitely painted…”

Strandlooper‘s SiteLines was among the evening’s exceptions, appearing to occur in a separate theatrical space to that occupied by its audience (hinting at the presence of at least some remnant of the ‘fourth wall’) and stood out as rather unusual in the programme by being primarily – in its ‘live’ dimension – clearly classifiable within the framework of dance. In this it was often slightly sketchy, the movements variable in clarity, precision and impact, but what did engage very effectively here was the sound-score, in which everyday sounds and voices were layered in increasingly complex patterns as the piece progressed. Where the choreography could sometimes feel too literally illustrative the sound moved into interestingly abstract realms from its literal beginnings in the ambience of a cafe, a street, the documentation of a walk. From the ambient birdsong, footsteps and clattering coffee-cups emerge voices, offering snippets of anecdote and observation: a woman visits a gallery and tries to recall the work she saw there, for example, while a gradual fascination with the operations of memory is coaxed into view. The dancers’ movements slip in and out of sync with the patterns building on the soundtrack, but it’s the score that really underwrites this piece. The concept seemed to be about building overlays and traces, one on another, mapping past movements through a variety of sites onto the small space of a stage, as though folding OS pages printed on tracing paper repeatedly to generate fresh (and ever less legible and distinct) mappings of the same personal and local geographies. This rough-cut suggests that if the movement can be more closely integrated with the patternings and mappings going on in the recordings to which they seem, at this stage, too literally reactive, then SiteLines could develop into something more difficult to classify than the present version, where the dance and sound elements remained somehow segregated, hinting at potential interactions, but never quite finding the grey area between mediums in which a more engaging merger might occur.

Martina Vermorel: “She loves the horse so much that her treatment of it begins to border on neglect…”

Closer to the core Hatch aesthetic was Martina Vermorel, whose durational performance Horse Woman featured Vermorel herself in riding dress seated beside a small island-like pile of sand, laboriously sewing hessian bags, filling them, and positioning the finished items around the drift of sand, whose shape changed as she went. The costume, silent presence and determined concentration created an intriguing visual tableau in the room, though one whose purpose and meaning remained obscure. Was this some kind of penance (in this respect, there seemed to be a connection with Sean Burn‘s contribution) or something more practical, a view of someone preparing for war or flood? Were the bags – which when completed, resembled those in which animal feed is often sold – intended to be fed to the horse implied offstage? If so, what kind of horse would eat sand? The more often we returned to the room, in which Vermorel continued her mysterious task in silence  for four hours, the more questions about her state of mind, her purpose and backstory, seemed to proliferate. Perhaps the real intent behind a work like this is to create a simple, indelible mental image, and in that, certainly, Vermorel succeeded. What the resulting image might mean, or be made to mean, is entirely up to those viewers who happened to encounter it during its extended but transient public apparition.

The Suitcase Ensemble: “Your Scouse brows and quirky dances…”

Pretty much all Hatch platforms manage to end with a nod to leftfield cabaret of some kind, and Hatch: Scratch was no exception, switching to nightclub style seating in the main hall at Embrace Arts and closing on a double bill that paired David Parkin’s ‘clinical depression concept albumGood Friday with The Suitcase Ensemble‘s The Singing City: A Liverpool Folk Cabaret. As with many of its Hatch-climaxing counterparts – whether Oyster Eyes at Hatch: It’s About Time, or the Polka Dots Can-Can Troupe of early Hatch excursions at The Maze – The Suitcase Ensemble proved hard to categorise, incorporating elements of musical comedy, burlesque, songs, flute solos and general quirkiness. The format featured a series of songs or musical interludes, each linking only obliquely to the next, and accompanied by sometimes outlandish costumes and dances. Three women in late Victorian bathing suits perform 1940s style synchronised routines while a woman dressed as a raven appears, flaps her way across the stage like a kind of gothic Stevie Nicks, and sings something closely resembling a 1970s rock song. An electric guitar segues into atmospheric part-song, followed by a spoken word passage about walking in a Liverpool park, or “the night birds, laughing while you sleep”. A group of girls put on make-up, families are evoked, and everything seems to abruptly transform into something else the moment it concludes. The end result is confusing – a kind of belated post-modern cabaret, a stylistic and thematic bricolage of the current and long forgotten, the superficial and the poignant – but generally enagaging, the disparate elements held loosely together by recurring images of fishing and those obsessively cited ‘night birds’. Even at the end it’s not clear what the intentions behind The Singing City might have been, beyond its obvious desire to entertain and its more general celebration of Liverpool itself, as a place and state of mind, but despite that slightly garbled feel overall, many of its individual moments stick stubbornly in the mind, like burrs on a trouser leg after a walk through a summer field.

*

With The Suitcase Ensemble drawing Hatch: Scratch to its (logical or illogical) conclusion and the feedback the Scratch platform existed to gather on behalf of its performers collected in multiple formats – written, audio and more generally conversational – the night wound down to bring phase one of Hatching Space to a brief hiatus. The next phase begins on July 21st, when Hatch ventures onto a coach for a series of in-transit performances and a destination at Manchester’s Hazard Festival: think of that one as being a bit like Cliff Richard and The Shadows in Summer Holiday – but with the likes of Annette Foster, Simon Raven, Zoo Indigo, Shrug and The Gramophones standing in for Melvyn Hayes, Hank Marvin and Cliff himself, obviously. I’ll be reporting back on that adventure in due course.

Hatch: Scratch (Part Two): Relationships, Reconstructions and a Clinical Depression Concept Album

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

The first five of the thirteen performances presented during Hatch:Scratch are considered in a previous post, From Chaos and Participation to Nuts, Cowboys and Farewells, and moving into the second tranche of thoughts on the night in this follow-up, it’s clear that at least some of the themes glimpsed among those earlier pieces are continued and developed through the four featured here. Perhaps it’s worth wondering whether ideas of imperfection, in particular, are not only inevitable, given the ‘scratch’ format, but a key part of the ethos of those performers and writers most likely to be drawn to the Hatch aesthetic in the first place. And what is that elusive aesthetic, loosely defined (by Hatch itself) as ‘the performance-y’? Well, one version of an answer, a largely historical one, was explored in a prologue written for the Hatch: NEAT series of events during 2011, another in the organisation’s own Hatchifesto. But things being left open-ended rather than neatly resolved appears to be part of it, as does leaving in the marks of process, the mistakes and conflicts of the performers, the sketchy details, the pencil marks, smudges and hiccups…

How We Run: “Sorry. We had hoped this would turn out better…”

It’s certainly not hard to relate the self-undermining presentation of the three-man show of How We Run’s Waterwalk (the group includes what appeared to be a full house of former Hatch performers) to the opening salvo of Priya Mistry’s Ping Pong Crash and the efforts made by both performances to create something impossible to bring to any kind of tidy resolution. Waterwalk took its name from a musical piece by John Cage, as performed on an American TV gameshow during the 1950s, and a reconstruction of that performance (with Kris Rowland making an almost perfectly reticent Cage) marked the climax of a piece that also tried to recreate Andy Kaufman’s notorious stand-up gigs spent reading aloud from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and offered an account of the rather lesser-known (but evidently legendary on the Winchester University campus where it took place) Ut Astrum Una Hora by Pea Green Boats, a performance in which at least one member of How We Run had participated. The effect was two-fold, underlining the unrepeatable nature of live art with stumbled lines, shortfalls of props and a context that just can’t generate the shock and surprise of the originals, but also – perhaps more interestingly – questioning whether those events that pass into legend were really as compelling, original or self-evidently significant as their later reputations suggest. What if, Waterwalk appears to ask, these events just hadn’t been very satisfying in the first place and we’ve forgotten far better ones? Why is Kaufman the subject of Hollywood movies and endless screeds of analysis while Pea Green Boats (or by implication, any other live work reduced to late twentieth century background noise) passes unnoticed? The serial failure of these reconstructions is calculated and accompanied by a lot of Campari, but was it entirely a product of the company’s own self-confessed (indeed, exaggerated) limitations?

Two Destination Language: “So what do you think of his shirt?”

At first, it seemed that it was only the shared gameshow reference that linked Two Destination Language’s WLTM with How We Run’s Waterwalk but perhaps the analogy between ideas of romance and ideas of legendary significance in performance weren’t as far removed from each other as they initially appeared, both being subject to retrospective mythologising and a degree of rose-tinting of reality. WLTM is staged as a Blind Date or Snog Marry Avoid style pantomime, with the central duo confining their role to selecting audience members to pair up then working to drive the energy levels to vaguely manic extremes. Meanwhile, we watch potential romance bloom in real time, shuffle our feet and avoid eye contact with the hosts who ominously – if gleefully – roam the aisles in search of fresh contestants. If WLTM did have a purpose beyond straightforward participation and entertainment it lay in the almost desparate need to be liked projected by the hosts, who seemed to consider the success of their match-making crucial to their own sense of self-worth. Dressed in ‘nudie’ aprons and behaving like 15-rated children’s show hosts, they fussed around their homespun gameshow’s mostly nonchalant subjects with all the bluster of Ricky Gervais on a management team-building weekend. In that, the performers gave the impression that current society’s ethos of forced but ruthlessly exposing ‘fun’ might be the real target. The Two Destination Language hosts refrained from the kind of cruelty and psychological bullying that so often marks their real media models, instead ensuring throughout that they were always the most ridiculous figures onstage, so perhaps the intended satire cut less sharply than it might have done. Even so, WLTM made for a good-natured, high-energy interlude that culminated in a formation dance and a sigh of relief from those audience members who’d escaped being led to the stage.

Hannah Nicklin: “Standing up to protect what you think matters…”

A relationship was also being negotiated in Hannah Nicklin‘s A Conversation With My Father, in which the Leicester based theatre maker (and sometime political protestor) opened negotiations with her own father, a serving policeman whose duties include the control of public protests, among other things. I only caught a short section of this performance, but what I saw seemed political in the true sense of finding ways to live among and between competing worldviews rather than the shallow sense of accusation and allocation of blame for social ills. With Nicklin and her father engaged in a video dialogue (set up, perhaps not coincidentally, to resemble the recorded police record of the interrogation of a suspect) intercut with Nicklin’s own (often telling and funny) stories of protest and family life, the piece circled around ideas of competing values and recognised that the father’s belief in public order wasn’t always at odds with Nicklin’s more liberal attitudes, but perhaps created the context in which she was free to express herself, while her beliefs and actions, in their turn, fostered the kind of civic tolerance that made her father’s orderly society possible on a day to day basis. In an age when ritualised slanging matches pass for political debate and people are liable to define themselves by their prejudices – for or against – there seemed a refreshing openness and intelligence at work here that made me wish I’d been better organised on the night and seen the whole performance. As it was, what I saw suggested a very interesting piece in the making – one that’s likely to be as topical in these days of police ‘kettling’ and undercover provocateurs as it might be timeless in its questioning of the basis of a functioning civic society.

David Parkin: “We’re going to do some songs from my clinical depression concept album…”

In a very different mode, former Metro Boulot Dodot member David Parkin negotiated a very particular relationship with himself, documenting his own fall into and recovery from a severe episode of clinical depression by way of a suite of songs going by the umbrella title Good Friday, a musical opus he insisted on describing as his ‘clinical depression concept album’. Adopting a smart suit (bought, he explained, as a costume, using Arts Council money, after years of trying and failing to obtain one by other means) and the patter of a cabaret performer, Parkin came across as a kind of Billy Joel figure, launching into songs about playing scrabble on grey Leicester Sundays in houses with empty knife drawers, feeling the urge to run destructively amok and, after a long, slow recovery (partly aided by the learning of piano, on a Hemingway he had inevitably named ‘Ernest’) his sudden appreciation of the beauty of stars in a night sky and realisation that despite the cosmic isolation, he no longer wanted to die. The music ranged from minimal and downbeat (the opener, ‘Scrabble for Beginners’, had the feel of a less baroquely obscene Arab Strap) to Rufus Wainwright campery and Chopin/Liberace-inspired romanticism. Like Sean Burn, Parkin seemed intent on changing the ways we talk about mental illness, but also – in using the language of the popular song – seemed aware that the form itself, with its tendency to focus on extreme emotional states, is already on some level a ready-made receptacle for the kinds of experience his own material poured into its familiar shapes and sounds. There can be few contexts beyond outright madness and song-performance where a whole roomful of people going “do do doo doodle ooo, do do doo doodle ooo” at full volume would pass as entirely unremarkable behaviour.

Hatch: Scratch (Part One): From Chaos and Participation to Nuts, Cowboys and Farewells

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

No sooner had the first double bill of the new Hatch series taken place in Nottingham than it was time for HATCH: Scratch at Leicester’s Embrace Arts, an event that encompassed an epic programme of excerpts and short works in progress designed to showcase (and generate feedback for) a variety of individual artists, performers and emerging companies from the East Midlands and beyond: often, a very long way beyond, with participants on the night hailing from France, Liverpool, Manchester and Texas, among other places. With thirteen performances to get through (three durational works and ten shorts presented in five paired episodes through the night) HATCH: Scratch certainly couldn’t be said to lack ambition, so much so that it seems to make more sense to try and look at the various threads of the event in a thematic necklace of fragments rather than a single through-written analysis: a kind of ‘scratch’ recollection to match the ‘scratch’ form of the night itself. This is Part One, looking at the first five of those thirteen performances…

Priya Mistry: “All the actions have an arrangement but I can’t say where everything will land…”

The first pairing of the night placed Priya Mistry‘s self-declared ‘performance experiment’ Ping Pong Crash and Other Sounds side by side with an extract from Chris. Dugrenier‘s work in progress, Elan Vital, a pairing that seemed to have been grounded in the contrast of order and chaos it evoked. As Mistry’s deliberately unpredictable choreography threw human bodies into a stage layout created by random scatterings of ping pong balls, inflatables and other unruly inanimate objects, and there obliged them to work through sets of prescribed patterns of movement, her deliberate attempt to undermine her own choreography offered a striking counterpoint to Dugrenier’s attempt to discipline her body in preparation for the execution of a standard gymnastic manouvre: the ‘back-walkover’. A delayed train meant I’d missed the beginning of Mistry’s piece, but entering the performance in its final stages certainly communicated a strong sense of order emerging – or trying to emerge – from the chaos generated on the floor of the gymnasium-style hall. As I came in, a man seemed to be climbing a wall backwards and a woman was struggling, absurdly but with every appearance of absolute concentration, with an inflatable swim-ring: both were trying to avoid the orange ping-pong balls that were everywhere underfoot. The scene looked like an exploded children’s playroom in which the performers tried to maintain some sense of dignity and poise. In that sense, and in the ‘banana skin’ threat posed by the ping pong balls themselves, Ping Pong Crash and Other Sounds felt rather like a cartoon version of life in general.

Chris.Dugrenier: “Stretch yourself, but know your limits…”

Chris. Dugrenier, by contrast, presented herself in Elan Vital as a woman in search of a self-control that the random factors of Mistry’s piece suggested might always remain slightly out of human reach. Having failed to execute the gymnastic ‘back walkover’ in her supple youth, Dugrenier is now set on training her body to achieve it at an age when it might already be beyond her capabilities. With this knowledge and determination she exercises herself and her audience, implores us to believe in her and works to inspire herself, before, ultimately, leaving us on the cliffhanger of ‘to be continued…’ just as she prepares – and assumes her posture – to attempt the feat. It’s an exercise in control and controlling, though it’s never clear whether Dugrenier’s character is working to satirise and expose some of the more egregious strains of ‘life’s what you make it’ and ‘it’s never too late’ circulating in contemporary Western Culture, by deliberately flirting with failure, or willing herself to believe in them, and persuade her audiences that they, too, could reach for their dreams and make them real. It’s a key ambiguity that suggests Elan Vital could develop as both a touchingly inspirational personal story and an analysis of the language of social control and sporting propaganda.

Sean Burn: “I assume people with nut allergies will select themselves out of my audience…”

Elsewhere in the building, Sean Burn was spending two hours breaking walnuts with his bare hand then feeding their contents to his continually changing audience. One of the night’s three durational performances, cracking up made its point succinctly. As Burn said himself, in one of his many asides, cracking up was designed as a ritual he could use to “reclaim the language of mental health”: at this point, he raised a walnut, contemplated it like Hamlet with Yorick’s skull, then set it on a table to be broken with the flat palm of his bare hand. Each time, the invocation of “nuts…cracking up” was repeated, then followed by an interlude of discussion with the audience: “yes, the walnut was chosen for its particular resemblance to a human brain, but it helps that it’s a nut that can be cracked open in this way – I wouldn’t be doing it with Brazils”, he’d explain, before holding up his swollen hand to show the physical demands this apparently capricious action made on him physically. A performance grounded in language became one that left stigmata, and while never directly invoked, perhaps there is an awareness that the idea of traditional Sainthood – with its obsessions, hysterias and visions – was often linked to what the modern age redefined as mental illness. Burn packed a lot of allusions and layers into what had initially seemed a straightforward test of personal endurance.

Greg Wohead: “Now we’re going to try and do a thing called the Texas Thunderstorm…”

Greg Wohead‘s approach in The Many Apologies of Pecos Bill had a madness of its own, specifically that of the tall stories making up the defining mythologies of many national and regional identities, but in a pairing with Lowri Evans’ Live Letter the piece – a highly accomplished slice of traditional storytelling in which a personal narrative, from Wohead’s own Texas childhood, was woven into the story of the eponymous Texas legend Pecos Bill – became an exercise in the manipulation of storytelling styles and techniques as much as a straightforward contrast between heroic and defiantly everyday material. The coup de theatre here lay in the opening bit of audience participation, as Wohead instructed the audience to first rub hands together, then snap fingers, then clap, then stamp feet, and finally reverse the order of these actions, at ascending and descending volume, in order to first invoke, and later play back from a recording, the convincing sound of a coming and departing thunderstorm. With shadow projections, tales from the scout hut and school canteen (shades of Wes Anderson, perhaps?) and the central thread of Pecos Bill himself, who “was raised by wolves, used a rattlesnake for a lassoo and rode a demonic horse nobody else could tame” this was such a neatly shaped and perfectly executed short that it’s hard to see how it could be developed into something longer without diluting it.

Lowri Evans: “My hair was so bored it was leaving my head…”

One reason why the storytelling styles seemed accentuated in Wohead’s performance perhaps lay in its pairing with Lowri EvansLive Letter, whose own concerns seemed to be with the techniques of communication, in Evans’ case the ‘final letter’, the last word and some low-key but dramatic personal sense of achieving narrative and emotional closure in the flow of an uncooperatively fluid life. She arrives onstage with a suitcase, in a black feathered dress, and begins to take her leave without ever quite seeming prepared to let go. She draws the outlines of a kitchen (“I’m not sure I’ll visit your house again. I creep around it in my head…while you’re at work”), unscrolls an absurdly long piece of paper, on which she’s written her final testament to a relationship, a place, some past version of herself…a farewell to something, or nothing, or everything. There’s a sense in Live Letter of the everyday being cast into some peculiar light, as though – given just the right circumstance – nothing could possibly be more poetic than, say, a group of saucepans on a kitchen stove or a municipal park in the rain. Evans’ piece feels like a sketch (quite literally, as she spends a long section of her performance tracing the outlines of an utterly mundane but – for her, or her character, at least – highly charged image in black marker pen onto an illuminated sheet of paper) but Live Letter clearly has the potential to draw its audience ever further into the neurotic and obsessive world her onstage persona seems bent on creating.

Where Have You Hatched?

Here is the completed version of The Accidental Animator’s stop-motion film, made live at Lee Rosy’s tea shop as part of Hatch: Abroad. It stars members of the audience – were you one of them?

Happy Birthday to Hatch

Hatch is now officially one year old. Thank you to everyone who came, performed, supported, or otherwise helped make Hatch: One the fantastic night out it was. You are all brilliant and we were very glad to have you at our birthday party. Thanks.

Photos and whatnot from the event will be up here soon, but to start with, please check out below the incredible 365 frame stop-frame animation created live on the night by Annie Parry, Matt Watkins and the audience: