Programmer Picks: Brighton Festival Theatre, Circus and Dance
Sally Cowling, Associate Producer of the Brighton Festival, shares a couple of her top performance picks.
The pieces I’ve picked out of our enormous programme of performances are all works that I think are phenomenal, virtuosic and unlike almost anything else out there in the world, either because of their subject matter or because of their form. I’m not sure you would find any other festival that could encompass such a variety of beautiful, challenging and extraordinary work and I really hope that the Brighton audience enjoys each of these pieces as much as I did.
“Attenborough in Leotards” A.K.A Fauna
My dark secret as a programmer is that I’m not always entirely besotted with circus; I might admire the incredible skills on display but not feel much of an emotional connection. But when skill and narrative come together I think circus can be extraordinary.
I saw Fauna (the name of both company and show) in Edinburgh last year and fell in love with it. It sits somewhere between circus-these are performers who’ve worked with some of the best companies in the world (Sept Doigts, Gravity and Other Myths, No Fit State etc)-and contemporary dance, with a brilliant live guitar soundtrack. The performers explore and play with the similarities between humans and animals, conjuring up apes and lizards, peacocks and spiders in courtship rituals, playful competition and fights.
Attenborough-accurate, we watch animal behaviours that are also very recognisably human and, as a result, very funny. It’s also sexy in an entirely family-friendly way, fast-paced and, let’s not forget, extremely skilled, including some particularly lovely trapeze work. Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it.
To my mind, the best of theatre feels absolutely of the moment- talking about, and inviting empathy with, a set of experiences that feel entirely contemporary and urgent. Adam is one such piece of theatre, a story about a transgender man that is by turns moving, disturbing and positively inspirational. It is also performed by the person whose story is being told, Adam Kashmiry, appearing for the first-time on a professional stage. We are witnesses to the brave choices he has made and (spoiler alert!) we are part of the happy ending.
It's an eye-opening journey through the trials of his Egyptian childhood to the frankly horrific experiences with petty bureaucracy and casual bigotry on his arrival in Glasgow. As an exercise in raising awareness amongst the cis-gendered of the commonplace indignities that the trans-gendered have to endure, it's very effective, made all the more powerful by the striking lack of self-pity in evidence. It’s very cleverly staged with a second, female, actor playing Adam's alter ego (as well as mother, friend, wife etc), illuminating the competing push-and-pull of his gender identity and forcibly bringing home his isolating sense of dislocation.
Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, this is shot full of humour and humanity throughout and one comes away feeling inspired and uplifted. There is a gorgeous end moment - which I won’t spoil for you - where I for one was resorting to my hankie whilst also giving a standing ovation. Tissues at the ready…
The Tesla coil is an extraordinary thing to behold-huge and more than slightly scary, with crackling arcs of electricity exploding from it, exuding the smell of ozone and making the hairs on the back of your neck quite literally stand up. It’s a mechanical embodiment of the forces of nature, a creator of raw electricity, a reminder of danger, a transmitter of lightening, and it’s entirely hypnotic. When I watched this performance, the whole audience was transfixed.
This is both installation and live concert with composer Robbie Thomson creating a score by manipulating the voltage coming from the Tesla coil and adding it to his own soundscape, which is part techno, part industrial, part the sound of space weather! This is so odd and special and primal and exhilarating, I think it’s unmissable.
This is an absolutely brilliant contemporary dance experience, created by two Australian choreographers at the peak of their powers. Watching it, I loved the spiky angularity of some of the choreography and the ritualistic, folkloric quality of other sections. I suspect that if you are a fan of Wayne McGregor or of Hofesh Shechter, you will be similarly entranced, while recognising Attractor’s uniqueness. The company of (fantastic) dancers are involved in the choreographic equivalent of call-and-response with the Indonesian duo, Senyawa, whose clubby, trance-y, mesmeric music powers the piece.
It’s like watching the most exciting, ecstatic religious ritual and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of work where more energy and intensity is coming off the stage! It’s joyful abandonment and raw physicality in dance form and the last 15 minutes bring the professional company and volunteer audience members together in a completely wonderful blurring of the lines between dancers and non-dancers. I am practically allergic to the notion of audience participation but even I felt envious of the sheer glee and beauty in evidence up there on the stage. So, if you have the chance, join up to join in!