Review – ROH2 Firsts 2009 (Nicola Conibere, Mualla, Aurelie, El Toro Theater) – Linbury Studio


November! Firsts! This series of performances is a great way to see a wide variety of performers you’ve probably never seen before, at the wallet friendly price of £5 a ticket. I’m a big fan (went the last two years) and was really looking forward to this years series, though I could only go to one show.

Well, alas! The first piece of the evening, “Count One,” was as dreadfully unwatchable and pretentious as I had feared. Picture this: A person walks on the stage, holds their hand out as if waiting for it to be shook by someone else, then turns to the audience (as if about to take a bow), then returns to the wings. This is repeated, only as he is standing there with his hand extended, a second person walks forward, shakes their hand, then turns their back to the first person and extends their own hand as if expecting someone to shake it. They both turn to face the audience and then walk back to the wings. Now repeat with a third person. Now repeat with a fourth person. NOW LOSE YOUR WILL TO LIVE. I did. I realized there was little chance of anything happening I was going to care about in the next thirty minutes (THIRTY MINUTES!) and put my head on my husband’s shoulder and free associated in the dark. The description was sadly quite accurate and lived up to my fears of what the piece would be: something that was a much better idea to think about than to watch.

After this there was a long break where my three companions and I discussed our reaction to the first show while the stage was being prepared for the next. We’d all hated it; comparisons were made to Fram and other notable catastrophes. I’d wished I’d gone ahead and stayed outside for the first piece and then returned for the second and saved my energy and enthusiasm. Three of us decided that we were going to leave at the interval; all of us were put off by seeing a work about football (“An Unorthodox 1-2,” see description belwo), but, I think, in our hearts we’d just lost our faith in the curator’s ability to choose something that didn’t stink, and while Amy was willing to stay on for the fourth piece, all of us were having serious motivation issues.

Then it was time for Ilona Jäntti in “Muualla,” a charming piece in which a performer interacts with a screen that has animations projected on it. Her shadows on the screen morph into strange creatures that follow her around; boxes expand and contract, squishing her inside. Eventually she climbs a rope, chasing a red creature and getting caught in the forms on the screen as they fall apart and reform; eventually she is in a sort of rope trapeze, hanging sideways, spinning, walking on the screen as the images flip into a sort of Escherian reality … it was all very fun and very modern feeling, and while the rope work wasn’t particularly spectacular (got that at my circus performances earlier in the year), it did really fit the piece. Congrats to Tuula Jeker and Ilona for making a really bright spot in the night; it totally justified my attendance.

That said, the feeling of wanting, not just my money back, but to be compensated for my wasted time with the first piece had utterly corrupted my sense of experimentalism, and when the interval came, I went home, as did (as it turns out) the other three members of my party. Hopefully my friends won’t lost their trust in me as someone who can choose a good way to spend the evening; as it stands, I no longer feel compelled to check out anything else in the series after this catastrophe. Well, I would go, but next time I will trust myself and just wait it out in the bar, or get seats on an aisle so I can make a quick escape if necessary.

(This review is for a performance that took place on November 24th, 2009. It will be repeated November 25th.)

Here is a description of the program in case it falls off the ROH website:

Count One uses a simple choreographic structure to organize moments of everyday exchange and interaction through a series of physical motifs that are repeatedly ‘opened’ and ‘closed’ by its four performers. These episodes develop to embrace elements of theatrical spectacle, inviting an array of relationships and interactions to come in and out of play. A lighthearted, evolutionary journey from handshake to costumes and lights. ‘A quietly affecting piece; funny, clever and infuriating.’ Resolution!
Muualla/Elsewhere explores the possibilities of combining animation, circus and dance in live performance. Initiated and designed by naturalized Finnish architect and animator Tuula Jeker and choreographed and performed by the extraordinary Finnish aerialist Ilona Jäntti, the interaction between animation and performer creates a dialogue between the real and the virtual world; shadows morph into new creatures and nothing is what it seems.
An Unorthodox 1-2 was commissioned as part of a residency at Blue Square Premier football club Barrow AFC, and combines field recordings, spoken word and improvised music to explore the aural environment of a non-league football ground. Using live voice processing, video projections and graphic notation, Aurelie capture the unique aura of match day in a South Cumbrian town and present an idea of ‘the game’ as a performance in its own right.
One man’s world crumbles when his girlfriend leaves…Lovedrunk is a beautiful piece of highly visual theatre that fuses together live performance, physical theatre, digital video and emotive music to explore falling out of love. Darkly comic and highly inventive, this is physical theatre storytelling for the YouTube generation. Created with the support of Arts Council East.

Tickets: £5

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