Surge Festival 2012
While Edinburgh's festivals may be channelled into a specific month of busy, high energy mayhem, Glasgow has always paced itself, with festivals popping up throughout the year. The Merchant City Festival - formerly staged during September but now the city's last stand against The Fringe in late July - is more eclectic and quirky than the heavy bombardment of the West End's June combination of classical music and community events. Two years ago, Surge debuted within the Merchant City Festival: this year, it builds on its success with a programme that promises to make physical theatre a famiiar form.
Curated by Conflux - an organisation dedicated to caring for physical theatre's veterans and emergent artists - Surge incorporates street performance, circus skills, public games, interventions, installations and a cabaret hosted by the Marquis de Sade. There's an elegant irony at the heart of the festival: physical theatre has a reputation for being challenging and experimental, yet it has roots in the most popular and accessible arts, including circus acrobatics and clowning. This tension gives Surge its unique vitality, offering events, like Ian Smith's solo My Hands are Dancing or Strangevird Zirkus' Fire that are simultaneously the cutting edge of performance and emotionally engaging.
Shows to look out for...
pvi collective present deviator
This Conflux commission has been made by the Australian provocateurs in assocation with local artists. Using a mobile phone application - a nod to consumerism that might undercut the collective's avowedly anarchic approach to disrupting the easy flow of contemporary life - players are guided through the streets to audio instructions, and through the activities of various characters intent on fun and disorder. Like the best interventions, deviator takes the familiar - in this case, children's games - and lends them a power that is challenging. Since pvi's most recent activity was making a special set of cards to celebrate the Queen's birthday (each card pointing out a problem in the behaviour of various Commonwealth nations), expect a political and engaged edge to the humour.
Sita Pieraccini - Bird
Last seen at Arches Live!, this one-woman show Bird sees Pieraccini creating her own world through inventive mime and clowning. At times redolent of Theda Bara (not least because of those eyes), she portrays an unnamed feral child who befriends a songbird, thus learning the transient nature of everything. Pieraccini’s eyes are incredibly expressive- openly displaying joy, pain or vulnerability. Sweet, wry but heart-rending, it lingers long, like another’s scent on your clothes.
Ian Smith of Mischief La-Bas presents My Hands are Dancing but my Heart is Cold
Another former Arches Live! special, this time from the grand old man of Scottish Live Art. Smith has been busy making massive street theatre for decades - his company Mischief originated the Tom Jones Fan Club (often seen chasing innocent men and throwing pants) and the big parade that kicked off 2010's Surge. Yet in this solo show, Smith shows he can do intimate theatre, in a five star five minutes of glamour-hiding-tragedy.
Ramesh Meyyappan and Iron Oxide present Skewered Snails
The original Snails and Ketchup was Meyyappan's virtuousic solo aerial show. "Italo Calvino’s Baron in the Trees was and continues to be the inspiration," he says, but now he has expanded the cast to four. This is a natural extention of the piece. "I looked at creating four interesting family members, drawing some inspiration from the book, in particular their quirkiness," he recalls. "I used this to make it darker and slightly more sinister, even giving the characters a ‘back story’ as way of showing their journey."
Ali Maloney presents Ratcatcher
Sometime hip-hop poet Maloney goes grotesque in this modern day anti-pantomime. Deep in the earth, two ugly underlings fantasise about celebrity and food, aware of their own degradation only enough to wallow in the fetid consumerism that encourages cannibalism, fetishisation and brutality. Part of the Scope programme, which is designed to support emerging artists, it sees Maloney chart out the exact dimensions of a very personal hell.
Company of Wolves present Invisible Empire (a work in progress)
Poland has always been a centre for physical theatre - The Company of Wolves show off the ensemble techniques of the Polish Laboratory Theatre, merging movement, live music and text to question why some people are willing to leave their ordinary lives behind to fight for a cause.
Until a few years ago, physical theatre was only represented by a few companies in the UK: the tradition of the script, made powerful by the importance of Shakespeare as part of the British heritage, ensured that theatre was seen as a matter of texts and words. Perhaps the post-modern disintegration of national identity undermined the central role of Shakespeare, or the uncertainity of economic security has encouraged a more pragmatic approach to performance creativity - or maybe audiences simply got tired of the same old plots. Whatever the reason, physical theatre is thriving in Scotland, and Surge combines the international with the local, showcasing the future stars of the art and placing them in their context.