Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Martha @ Tramway 2006

Richard Move's cabaret about the mother of contemporary dance has become an underground sensation for lovers of dance and camp. Straddling an uncomfortable divide between arch parody and academic tribute, it presents Martha Graham as pretentious diva and cultural innovator. This tension between two visions provides an unsatisfying dynamic, leaping between reverence and mockery.

The accurate reconstructions of her work - radical fifty years ago, now integrated into the repertoire of Classical Ballet - are stunning, even as Martha's tremulous announcements isolate her as naive. Her contribution to the revolution from nineteenth century formalism is acknowledged. Her impact, however, is described rather than felt. Move's Martha is self-contained, confident and wry - the intimate detail lost in Tramway's post-industrial space. 

In spite of the inappropriate venue, and the awkward gap between the competing visions of the Grand Dame, Martha @ Tramway is a concise delight, alternating humour and intensity, without integrating into a whole.

In the battle for aesthetic supremacy, The Arches seems set to emerge triumphant at the end of April. The annual Theatre Festival takes place between the 12th and 27th, promising new work from local talent and visits from international companies. Already an imposing venue for any event - their productions of Beckett took the miserable modernist even deeper into hell - the Arches is threatening to turn Glasgow's cognoscenti into subterraneans. 

The highlight of the Festival could be Pan Pan's re-imagining of the Oedipus myth, reminding us that even the earliest theatre was preoccupied with the same brutal themes as contemporary performance art. A fusion of modern stage-craft and ancient extremity, Oedipus Loves U is apparently to be directed live on the night, leading us through the horrors of incest, self-harm and self-delusion. Perhaps not the ideal first date, it aims to make the connection between our heritage and modern anxiety. 

While tabloid headlines predict the end of arts funding in Scotland as the London Olympics drains away lottery cash, the Arches still supports the psychotic clown Al Seed, who will be collaborating with Ben Foulks in the aptly named Endurance. Al is a terrifying performer, bringing to the surface the viciousness that hides behind the circus greasepaint. His most recent work had him exploring his memories of being an insect with an agility that denied his emaciation. Endurance is not the only local art being supported in this festival: new works have been commissioned from Cora Bissett and Rosie Kellagher. 

Overall, the Arches Theatre Festival will contain work that challenges, frightens and provokes. Undoubtedly, some may find the bill not to their taste - of all art forms, experimental theatre can be especially subjective. But patience and persistence will reward, and Glasgow is fortunate to have so much challenging work in a single venue.

Over at Tramway, preparations are being made for a hectic summer season. In the meantime, it presents a single production - a collaboration between two Scottish companies. Lung Ha's are working with Paragon Ensemble in a show that manages to express the entire Tramway remit in a single production. Paragon explores modern classical music, while Lung Ha's are an inclusion theatre company that works with adults who have learning disabilities. Arlecchino's Revenge is a timely political parable that celebrates the power of drama: a fitting response to those who question the importance of arts funding. 

April 2007
This month The Tramway plays host to the New Territories Festival of Live Art: three weeks of international experimental work that promises to be inspiring and frustrating in equal measure. Beginning with the five days of the National Review of Live Art, it takes in companies from Belgium, the UK and Turkey with internationally acclaimed artists performing alongside the local. As well as operating as an annual gathering for performers in the medium, the festival provides an immersive introduction to the extremes of contemporary theatre. 

New Territories is like a demanding version of Celtic Connections: while the various performances are linked by their shared vision, individual shows are radically different. Glasgow's Anna Kryzystek presents Still on February 20th, a piece that is somewhere between art installation and dance, while Michael Clark - the hit of last year's festival - returns with Mmm… an exploration of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The National Review itself is notoriously uneven, having a mixture of experienced and new acts. Like a dark cabaret, its busy programme ensures that there is something to delight, then confuse and even offend everyone. It gives a fair representation of the Live Art scene. The lazy and dynamic, the thoughtful and thoughtless all share the same space. The huge variety of media on show, from film to spoken word, is staggering.

The subjectivity of Live Art can render traditional critical responses to quality and structure meaningless, while the sheer number of different performances make it almost impossible to identify a single event as a highlight. However, Michael Clark's work (27-28 February), having roots in classical ballet and boasting a company of talented dancers, will be perhaps the most easily accessible piece. Elsewhere, a day at the NRLA (7-11 February) is an uneasy pleasure that will generate a heated debate about the nature and purpose of performance. 

Glasgow is well-served with physical theatre, and it is fitting that such a prestigious festival should find its home here: the works will doubtless generate further experimentation and provide a focus for a movement that is working beyond the confines of the safe and traditional.

February 2007

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