Saturday, 14 August 2010

Reviewer vs Director... A Cross Over?

I did something the other day after seeing a show which I think could be conceived as a cross-over from reviewer to director. After seeing a show (which shall not be named) for reviewing purposes, I felt so strongly about it I felt I had to say something. This led to me having a conversation with the director / playwright / choreographer / performer and letting her know exactly what I thought before I wrote it. This was partly because of the infuriating word count that ThreeWeeks limit their reviewers with and partly because I really want this before mentioned director / playwright / choreographer / performer to go on and achieve success with her work; after all she is very talented.

I was apprehensive giving my notes, particularly as she was just 19! Firstly this made me feel incredibly under-achieved and secondly I simply didn't want to hurt her feelings. In actual fact, she probably dealt with the situation in a far more professional and mature way than I did; she shook my hand, introduced herself and listened intently as I gave my advice. It even seemed to have an impact on her and to my relief I was not the first reviewer to let her know what was so obviously wrong with the piece; The Scotsman had advised the exact same thing.

All in all, this may be the case of a reviewer critiquing the show in person rather than in word and not actually my director self coming out at all. Either way I was glad I could expand on what would have been a short and unexplained snapshot of a review, and I think maybe she was too.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Reviewer vs Director

Reviewing amateur shows for The Stage at Edinburgh can be painful. Having directed myself, it is often heartbreaking leaving a performance knowing that you will be giving it a terrible review when all you want to do is give directorial feedback. Of course in some instances this means picking them up, giving them a good old shake and yelling at them to change their ways or stop charging money, but at other times there are just the few elements that show potential and need that extra guidance. Hopefully, they will read my review and therefore find out what exactly I thought went wrong, but not in enough detail. I am by no means suggesting that I am any better than these companies, or that I am necessarily right with my initial opinions but it would be nice to go outside of the 250 word limit and speak to these people in a language that needn't be witty or entertaining, but instead direct and straight to the point. I do believe that a reviewer should not write a word that they couldn't say in a face-to-face meeting, it is simply a shame that there are not more of these meetings had. I welcome any one of the companies suffering the effects of my written word to get in contact for further feedback as they certainly deserve to hear it unedited. What concerns me is that some will not listen; to me, or anyone else who criticises their work. I feel like Simon Cowell telling a young X-Factor contestant warbling through a Mariah Carey hit that they can't sing; it is harsh, but ultimately true.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

I've Arrived... It's Edinburgh 2010

Fifteen hours of bumpy bum-numbing mini-bus ride and I have finally arrived in Edinburgh. Five hours later I am awake again to beautiful views of the city (and so they should be considering the four flights of stairs I had to lug my case up) and after a pancake breakfast I am out on the cobbles sellotaping posters to shop windows and enjoying being able to walk the Royal Mile with limited harassment. Working every night and most days for the month with Anomic Multi-Media Theatre Company, reviewing and blogging should be the last thing I can think about, but I am gearing myself up for the innovative and the unexpected, the terrible and the down-right strange; reviewing is my ticket to adventuring the new. Having perused the extraordinarily large program of events I am oddly relieved that I do not have to pick what to see; it is rather an exciting prospect to have no clue what you could be sent to next. I am eager to get out there, be caught up in the rush between shows, be stimulated by performance and be inspired to do what I love; write. It may be stressful, sleep-deprived and character testing, but working three jobs at Edinburgh couldn't be more exhilarating. Here's to Edinburgh 2010.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Island Crossing, Victoria Gardens REVIEW

I attended the site-specific performance Island Crossing in Victoria Gardens, Brighton on 10th July 2010; a contemporary piece which involved 50 young performers inhabiting a large square of grass interrupted by two trees. Choreographed by Charlie Morrissey, in collaboration with Carrie Whitaker and Jason Keenan-Smith, Island Crossing explored the dynamics of a city through the concept of people passing, transitioning and interacting; an artistic segment of Brighton and Hove. Clever choreography moved bodies organically and naturally through the space to create stimulating stage pictures. The innovation of these images proved talent and an eye for detail are key in structuring such art work which was beautifully complimented by the humble nature of the young performers. What worked most brilliantly in terms of site-specificity was the landscape of the trees and the way in which they informed the piece. The sense of rhythm and tempo provided by the enveloping music was set against the natural noises of passing cars and seagulls overhead which further flattered the perception of the performance. Immaculately timed and very professionally delivered, these members of various youth dance groups including T21, Brighton Hove Young Collective and Hampshire Youth Dance Company, did impressively well in producing such a mature performance as Island Crossing.

Dancing In The Streets: South East Prove They Can Dance Big

Saturday 10th July 2010: Brighton and Hove

My day began as a witness (and part participant I must admit) to the Bollywood and Samba / Carnival workshops held at the Lighthouse in the morning. Just over 20 people arrived to learn from the expert Bollywood dancer Charlotte Jalley, who has featured in many Bollywood films whilst mastering a very patient and clear instructing technique. As a dance new to many of the participants, what Charlotte said was true; “If you’ve got a big cheeky grin then the rest doesn’t really matter” and the last thing the room lacked was cheeky grins. ‘Guaranteed to make you laugh’, this workshop did not disappoint and encouraged many of the class to stay on an extra hour for the next workshop: Samba / Carnival led by Rosaria Gracia. Rosaria taught not only the exotic rhythms of this sensual Afro-Brazilian dance, but also threw in lessons about the history of its origins, making for an enlightening and educational hour. Having taught across the world, Rosaria has a wonderful understanding of people and the way in which Samba can bring out one’s sensuality. One participant who had attended both workshops described the dance expressions of the different cultures ‘uplifting’. The vibrant atmosphere and the buzz as the workshops came to an end said it all; these people wanted more.

Following the workshops I spent lunch time in central Brighton helping to organise the three flash mobs which occurred, known as Little South East Dance Goes LARGE... Thirty people apparently spontaneously dancing the exact phrase of choreography to ‘We Are Family’ by Sister Sledge was a spectacle to anyone walking past and in many instances brought people to an abrupt halt. Attendees of the morning workshops joined us, as well as children and youth workers from workshops during the week in which the phrase had been taught. The atmosphere was electric and I for one had a fantastic time. The audience that had gathered were eventually asked to learn the dance, which a few did, and then it was performed again with a bigger group of people. It was a shame that more people did not have the confidence to come up and learn but the flash mob certainly got people talking about South East Dance and worked as a wonderful attraction to promote the free performance that afternoon in Victoria Gardens. The fun-loving and vibrant atmosphere made it an exciting event to be a part of and succeeded in bringing together different areas of the community.

A Day Dancing With Brighton’s Community; One Not Easily Forgotten

Tuesday 6th July 2010: Brighton and Hove

As a young journalist volunteering as part of Big Dance South East I was invited to witness the free workshops taking place across Brighton and Hove between 1 – 10 July in the run up to the main dance event on 10 July. These workshops; free to the community, funded through the government and lead by professionals in the dance world are an opportunity for those who would otherwise miss out on the joy and exhilaration that dance can provide. My role was to investigate the nature of the workshops and the impact they had on various sectors of Brighton’s population; what influence does dance have on the community? To my delight, the answer was resoundingly positive; excitement and encouragement was at full flow in the areas touched by South East Dance. It was only a shame more people could not have been reached.

The first part of my day was spent in the company of the over 80’s residing in Muriel House Residential Home in West Hove. To my surprise I entered to a full house, as not only were the occupants of Muriel House present but Sandlers House Residential Home from across the road had eagerly joined the group, as well as one individual who had travelled from across town on a bus to take part. I had been told that the group had been given a choice of workshops including ballroom and sequence dancing, but the dance of choice for this vibrant bunch was line-dancing. An energetic and engaging routine ensured laughter filled the room, and whilst there were only around 7 out of the 30 people dancing, the keen supporters lining the outskirts of the dance arena made for a social and warm gathering; a strong atmosphere of community and togetherness if only for that short hour. It cannot be voiced strongly enough how important sessions such as these are in getting the residents out of their individual flats and together in fun activity. The group are lucky to have Nina as their scheme manager; her colourful character reflected in her purple dress and her jolly laugh bouncing off the walls was enough to keep anyone smiling. It was she who had organised this event with Big Dance South East and whilst this was one of the few workshops currently available to the group, with the reaction we received from the participants there is promise that these wonderful members of our older generation will carry on dancing; River dance is next, or so I’m told.

I was then taken on to a far younger group of people aged 8-11 who were to learn Street Dance with Anneli Smith in the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bevendean, Brighton. The small group of 6 girls was made up of three youth groups from across the Bevendean area, although the participants knew each other from school. The girls were shy in talking to me but confident in their dancing as they took on the steps with focus and dedication producing an outstanding level of dance by the end of just one hour. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was astonished at the talent the group possessed. Although there were a couple of participants clearly less keen on the routine and more interested in kart wheeling across the space, the majority reported that they would love to do a similar class again, particularly as not many had been offered such opportunities in the arts before. It was refreshing to see children genuinely interested in something for a full hour. For Anneli to keep their attention for so long was an impressive feat; one not easily achieved, but well worthwhile.

My final stop was with the teenagers of Brighton Youth Centre for a ‘Glee’ workshop with Hayley Coppard. Here we had a group of 7 girls aged 11-16 strutting their stuff to Lady Ga Ga’s ‘Bad Romance’ in the style of ‘Glee’ i.e. Musical Theatre. Originally a hip hop dancer, Hayley used her own technique of hip hop blended with a musical theatre approach to give the girls an amusing and energetic routine with plenty of charisma and attitude. Many of the girls had been involved with rehearsals for school productions all day so unfortunately the energy levels were low but this did not take away their enjoyment. The group had been established from three youth theatre groups originating from the Brighton Youth Centre so the teenagers were used to attending such classes, although not at this high a level. Hayley, who has been teaching youth groups for the last 2 years and dancing for the last 8, not only got the girls giving it everything they had, but even got the youth workers up and involved making for a very engaging and therapeutic hour of honest fun. Every one of the girls who participated agreed that they would do the class again, however it was clear something was troubling them in saying this. Upon further probing it was difficult to hear how they could not afford to go to dancing lessons, reinforcing the importance of what Big Dance South East does in its community work.

Watching all these varying participants of the community engage in dance workshops of all genres was rewarding but most significantly it was a clear illustration of how vital dance and the arts are within communities. It cannot be underestimated what Big Dance South East provides for people who would otherwise be ignorant of the pleasures and thrills dance can bring and I for one was deeply honoured to be even the smallest part of it.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

EVERYTHING MUST GO Or the Voluntary Attempt to Overcome Unnecessary Obstacles

A Piece I wrote last September after seeing Everything Must Go in Edinburgh. It seems fitting to re-publish here as the show is now touring and deserves the attention...

The enthralling Kristin Fredricksson takes her audience on a journey through a personal, yet marvellously entertaining tribute to her father.

Graduating from Kent this year, Kristin has gone on to take her brilliant show created for her MA in Practice as Research to Edinburgh and has returned with outstanding five star reviews and widely acknowledged critical acclaim. Winning the Total Theatre award for Devised Performance and The Arches Brick Award, Edinburgh has opened up the opportunity to tour with Everything Must Go, journeying Kristin to The Barbican in London, The Theatre Royal in Bath and The Arches in Glasgow, as well as other upcoming venues across Britain next June. It is decidedly a performance not to be missed.

Within an installation format, representative of ‘her dad’s house’, the piece itself is a theatrical approach to documenting her father’s life, as Kristin describes; “I curate my dad’s art”. The structure and content of the piece is both reflective of her father’s personality and of the disruption one feels when they lose someone close to them. It is also a further experiment for Kristin about the blurring of the line between art and theatre. This is an installation that moves.
A highly eccentric character, Karl Fredricksson experienced life from an interesting and heart-warming perspective. From training for the Olympics to dressing up in drag, from inspiring a following of school boys as a teacher to his obsession with money saving schemes, there is no doubt that Karl’s life was anything except extra-ordinary. His attempts to pick up women through ‘facial dances’ and ‘lady lifting’ are hilarious conceptions and his ‘newspaper stealing shoes’ are equally as fascinating. His daughter relates to us through a montage of cinema, puppetry, costume, physical theatre and props just how varied and inconceivably remarkable his attitude to life was, and the effect left no audience member with a dry eye. When Kristin originally performed the show in the Aphra theatre on campus in June this year, her father would join her dancing on stage to bring his life story into the present. Witnessing the same scene as Kristin danced across the stage with a life size ‘Karl’ puppet whilst the footage from June was screened behind her was heart wrenching as you realise that he had since, sadly passed away. I asked Kristin how she had felt about continuing with the piece once her father was gone and she explained how for the first few performances in Edinburgh she had felt detached, leading her to create an almost ‘emotional warm-up’ before the show began. However, whilst the piece relies on Kristin’s emotional attachment to the character of Karl, do not be tempted to believe that the aim for Kristin was to dismantle her audience and leave them in a state of emotional despair; the piece is as unsentimental as they come. Kristin uses humour and careful structures of pace and rhythm to eliminate the feeling that she is provoking the audience to break down in tears. The tears come as a consequence of an enlightening experience of one man’s life, very simply laid before us through various techniques of storytelling. For this is what Kristin is doing; she is telling her dad’s story, which in itself is a beautiful thing.

Kristin is exhilarating to watch; we witness her bounce on a trampoline, hurdle across the stage, tap dance, dress up as her father and lip sync with a hanging basket on her head. Her energy is similar to that of a little girl; she is a comedic, likeable character and when we come to the end of our meeting with her we recognise that the same uplifting spirit we can see in Karl has lived on in his daughter. I wondered how scripted the performance was, as I felt I was just watching Kristin be herself on stage. To my surprise she answered that the entirety of the piece was scripted, and yet she delivers it so naturally and profoundly that it is difficult to believe this is not the first time these words are being spoken. In fact, Kristin as herself is thoroughly more subdued than we witness on stage; there is a distance between herself and her character.

Kristin has worked in theatre since she graduated with a degree in History of Art from University of Cambridge in 1994. Her previous work has been mainly based outside the UK in places such as France, Portugal and Japan; making it broad in its style and format. Training with Jacques Lecoq in the 1990s has given her a dance / acrobatics background, which has lead to work with puppets and consequently with props. The base of Everything Must Go is the props used which not only aid the performance, but actually enable it. Kristin described to me how often rehearsals would be long periods of time spent by herself with various items from her father’s house; a rather lonely process. The props were used as inspiration, which then lead to improvisation and eventually resulted in a piece of theatre that used basic house hold props in a brilliantly imaginative way.

This enticingly strange man is a joy to get to know, as is his daughter, so by the end of the show you feel you have made and lost a friend all in the same hour. An attachment to Karl is incredibly difficult to get away from or ever forget (not least because of the many cardboard cut outs of him that litter the stage by the end of the performance). This show is a must-see, so book your tickets soon to witness it in its full glory next month:

2 May 4pm, The Junction, Cambridge 01223 511 511
5 May 7.45pm, The Castle, Wellingborough 01933 270 007
10 May 9pm, The Pavilion, Brighton
3-15 May 8pm, Tobacco Factory Bristol 0117 902 0344
18-19 May 7.30pm, The Arches, Glasgow 0141 565 1000
21 May 7.30pm The Carriageworks, Leeds 0113 224 3801
26-30 May 5pm, Ruhrfestspiele, Reckinghausen, Germany +49 (2361) 9218-0
3 June 7.30pm, Theatre Royal Margate 01227 787 787
5 June 7.30pm, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich 01473 295 900
11-12 June 8pm The Ustinov, Bath 01225 448 844
16-26 June 7.45pm, Barbican Centre, London 020 7638 8891
30 June 7.30pm, West End Centre, Aldershot 01252 330 040