volatile work for incendiary ends

realtime talks with SPILL festival director robert pacitti

Francoise Berlanger, Penthesilea

Francoise Berlanger, Penthesilea

Francoise Berlanger, Penthesilea

Pacitti was one of the mentors in the very first Time_Place_Space hybrid performance laboratory held in Australia on 2002. At a meeting in London in February 2006 and then in a recent email exchange we asked Pacitti to detail his motivation for such a large undertaking as SPILL.

“SPILL is very much an artist led initiative”, he writes. “The festival has grown out of my increasing frustration that our own work and that of many peers, whilst remaining very successful overseas, still struggles to be seen and taken seriously in the UK. There are many complicated—and alas, dim-witted—reasons why radical or ideas based work is a tougher beast to place here than more traditional forms, but few of them are actually to do with what audiences seem to want. So I knew I had to do something to force change, but I also knew I would fail in that if I just tried to better my own situation. Therefore SPILL is absolutely about the company being in service to a larger context, and the implications of that are truly international.”

In the UK there’s an incredible variety of forms of contemporary performance and fluidity between the categories of live art, performance art and experimental and new theatre. SPILL exemplifies the range and diversity of practices, juxtaposing, for example, Forced Entertainment, Raimund Hoghe, Kira O’Reilly, Francoise Berlanger, Hancock and Kelly, and the Pacitti Company.

For all this plenitude, however, Pacitti describes London as being without a focal point for contemporary performance: “London really lacks any ongoing high profile, properly resourced platform for performance. The city likes to ‘big itself up’ as a wild theatre capital, but in reality it still exists within very safe territory. This is clearly evident in the current plethora of site-specific work being made by younger artists who seemingly lack any desire to present content. It’s as if the civil rights movements never happened. So to that end SPILL is deliberately a programme of volatile work shown for incendiary ends.”

grand collaboration

Invited companies and individual artists will not only appear in SPILL in their own works but will collaborate with Pacitti Company in Finale, a work based on Emile Zola’s 1867 novel, Therese Raquin. Pacitti writes that many of them already have a collaborative history of some kind with his company. Finale was originally designed for the company when touring to challenge the notion of what it means to be a visiting artist. “We do this by running a two-week workshop for up to 30 local practitioners around issues of manifestos and explicit bodies, and the local artists then become performers in the piece, presenting their own workshop material integrated with our existing images. It’s crucial that everybody has equity though, and this is always the tricky bit. It’s a risky model for us as we never know quite what we’re going to get, but it means that each performance is a unique event that starts to unpack issues around what it means to host and what the status is of the visiting artist in relation to home-grown talent.”

Now Finale will be played out on Pacitti Company’s home ground: “In SPILL we are addressing a politic of international reciprocity by inviting artists from Brazil, Belgium, France and Australia who have been through this process before, to show their own practices and then work collectively with us as an international group to end the festival with Grand Finale. It’s a new model for us, and feels very political.” Grande Finale will be accompanied by the Swiss cult electronica band, Velma.

the program: scope

SPILL includes more than 50 performances over three weeks, a two-day international symposium on sustainable models for experimental practice; a weekly banquet for audiences to sit down informally and eat with artists; a program of feature films each accompanied by contemporary performance shorts; and “a series of ‘hidden’ messages around the city, accessed only via bluetooth broadcasts and SMS.” Venues include the Barbican, the South Bank Centre and the Soho Theatre.

In London’s vast Shunt Vaults below London Bridge (where the young performance company Shunt work) SPILL will collaborate with the Live Art Development Agency on an exhibition, Future Classic, of documentation of performance activity lineages from across the visual arts, dance, civil rights movements, clubland and film. “Future Classic is a participatory exhibition that will run throughout the festival. Onto a wall map placed deep within the Shunt Vaults audiences are invited to submit key influences that they feel are important to the development of contemporary performance praxis. Over the festival period these influences will accumulate to become a new collective map charting the activities of people and times that have somehow forced change, and in doing so become pivotal to the furtherance of performance making—either deliberately or otherwise.”

the program: artists

Forced Entertainment will present their magical saga of unfinished tales, And On The Thousandth Night (seen at the 2004 Adelaide Festival), and Exquisite Pain, their performance adaptation of the Sophie Calle work (see RT 78 for a report from Christine Evans on that performance and Quizoola by the company at the PuSh festival in Vancouver and also The World in Pictures, in Dublin).

Brazil’s Andre Masseno, a dancer, actor, choreographer, costume designer and stage director, will present his solo work I’m Not Here or The Dying Swan, a dance dialogue with Fokine’s 1907 choreographic piece for Anna Pavlova. Brussels based artist Eve Bonneau interrogates her own nudity in live performance with video in Body is the First Word I Say, her practice focusing on the body as organism: “The passage of experience from the body into the performance, of an organic world becoming a social body.”

Another Belgian artist, originally from Algeria, Francoise Berlanger bases her Penthesilea on the Heinrich Von Kleist version, producing “a work about the shock of falling in love, and the subsequent violence of loss.” Working with her visual artist brother Marcel, two sound artists, and a scenographer, Francoise Berlanger “plunges us into the cruel and haunted consciousness of a woman at war with herself as her flesh and her mind falter with fatal effects. Half-woman, half-animal, the stage is her abyss.”

In Tattoo, Traci Kelly will her have her back tattooed in the pattern of wallpaper from co-performer Richard Hancock’s childhood home. The work by these UK artists is described as “a slow archaeology…The tattoo will form a permanent exhibit; a visceral exchange of memories from one body to another.” The compelling Kira O’Reilly will present a new performance, a SPILL commission, which will doubtless be as beautiful and disturbing as previous works where she’s inscribed on her body with fine blades. Live art practitioner and long-term Pacitti Company member Sheila Ghelani will explore cultural and other hybridities in Covet me, Care for me , about “dissemination, about ‘upping the value of the mongrel’, about rejoicing in cross fertilization…”

Julia Bardsley (UK) will present one part of her Trans:Acts, “an accident at the cross-roads between video and live presence—a smash up at the intersection of performance and the script—a director and actress splayed across the dissecting table, waiting for the understudy to walk on and corpse—a last supper for an audience of twelve intimates.” The complete trilogy was presented at the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow, February 2005, and the TROUBLE Festival, Brussels in November 2005.

The engagingly idiosnycratic Raimund Hoghe (Germany), former dramaturg to Pina Bausch and solo performer (2003 Melbourne International Arts Festival, RT 58, p6) will appear in Sacre—The Rites of Spring with Belgian performer Lorenzo De Brabandere, responding to the Stravinsky score with “a new, contemporary and minimalist interpretation of the ballet classic: an initiation ritual for two men.”

As well as orchestrating Grand Finale, Pacitti Company will show its video installation, Three Duets, in which Pacitti performs in duets about self, sexual identity and age with Sheila Ghelani, Juliet Robson and octogenarian Angela Rodaway. The company will also present Civil, a significant moment in Pacitti’s personal history as an artist. It is rare for performance works to be presented by anyone other than their maker. Now Pacitti is to pass on one of his best known works about his encounter with Quentin Crisp in New York in 1996 and focused on issues of disobedience and civil rights, to a younger performer, Richard Eton.

Last, but not least, emerging Australian performance company Unreasonable Adults (RT76, p25) will present Last To See Them Alive, a solo performance by Carolyn Daish to a text by Fiona Sprott with direction and sound by Jason Sweeney. In RealTime 75 (p46), Sprott detailed the workshop gestation of the piece, from which has come “a series of monologues which propose a ‘character’ of a single girl and her relationship to a serial killer, distorting the traditional romantic fantasy portrayed in romance fiction to ask: ‘How do you meet Mr Right in an age of Serial Killers?’“

With the LIFT festivals now well in the past and the new Lift moving in a very different direction (p2-4), doubtless SPILL has the potential to satisfy the urgent needs Pacitti has identified. Lke LIFT before it, SPILL may find everyday arts competition in London a considerable challenge. However, the sensible scale of the festival, a strong program and an audience Pacitti believes is ready for challenging work, could create in SPILL the performance platform he yearns for as an ongoing entity.

SPILL, Festival of Performance, London, April 2-22, www.spillfestival.com

RealTime issue #77 Feb-March 2007 pg. 6

© RealTime ; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2007