Ménage a Trois and The Olympics of the Everyday
Tucked in behind the media hysteria about the Olympics – sporting events in the thrall of multinational business interests aren't unique – is the wonderful Cultural Olympiad. In September, London's South Bank will be receiving some of Scotland's most consistently challenging artists through this programme: NTS' Ménage a Trois, Private Dancer from Janis Parker, Skewered Snails (Ramesh Meyyappan) and the mischievious Caroline Bowditch's Leaving Limbo Landing (Bowditch may be from the Antipodes, but her time at Scottish Dance Theatre has made her a strong presence in Scotland).
Glasgow's unwillingness to be completely overshadowed by the Edinburgh Fringe sees Ménage, a bold collaboration between the NTS, Claire Cunningham and Gail Sneddon, hit Tramway before heading south: a preview in December showed Cunningham's personal choreography integrated into a world of music and video projections: Sneddon's spectacular set and images expose the dancer in an over-sized 'imaginarium' defined by anxieties and self-perceptions.
Using Cunningham's crutches as a foundation for the staging and movement, Ménage asks tough questions about how the individual allows other's opinions to determine their sense of self, before challenging the hypocrisy of a society that encourages tolerance but demands perfection: internet dating, fear of intimacy and the horror of a world that has become too large for the human are examined, in a compelling example of how dance can collude comfortably with other art forms to become total, immersive theatre. And while it is too easy to see Cunningham's crutches as a metaphor, the themes of disappointed love and the struggle for honesty become almost universal through Sneddon and Cunningham's choreography of person and objects.
In contrast, Ankur are visiting Bellahouston leisure centre to champion the Olympics of the Everyday. "We all deserve a medal to get through the day," says Shabina Aslam, Ankur's artistic director. "This is described by exploring the boring bits of life through sporting metaphors. Getting to work or school or the job centre can be an assault course of commuters, chores, homework as well as trying to get dressed and be civil to the people you live with. Our play uses sport within a comedy which celebrates the trials and tribulations of daily life."
Over the past five years, Ankur have become known for their careful balance of community and professional productions. As Aslam explains, "Ankur Arts Productions aim to transform the representation of Black and Asian Minority Ethnic Artists (BAME) as well as BAME communities in the production, consumption and enjoyment of arts, heritage and culture in Scotland." Whether this means large scale musicals, site-specific urban drama or new scripts, Ankur have a "mission to develop creative projects across all media that break new ground."
Certainly, the company is always ready to break new ground and find new audiences. Bringing together professional musicians, artists, choreographers and writers and teenage performers The Olympics of the Everyday transforms Bellahouston Leisure Centre into an interactive theatre, engaging the audience in the action as paparazzi seek the big story, spin classes are given a new meaning and medals are awarded.
Both Ménage and Olympics are clear reminders of the vibrancy of a Scottish performance scene that is willing to challenge itself and use elements from the outside world to sharpen intent: accessible, inclusive and willing to make salient critiques, Scottish theatre is capable of integrating meaning, movement and community to undermine assumptions about what theatre can, and should, be.