The Mazatlan Theatre Festival has just ended, so I spent the whole of last week watching all kinds of performances around Mazatlan. It had a great programme, groups came from around the world to perform, and I saw such a wide range of work. A one man version of Hamlet in Spanish, a site specific exploration of space, a full scale dance piece in the theatre, a Lucha Libre themed improv show in a wrestling ring…. I still have the question of communication and language in my mind, and I got a lot of ideas and inspiration.
Some of the works were intervenciones urbanas, meaning they took place in public spaces, with more freedom and intimacy with the audience. Provisional Danza from Spain showed a duet in a square next to the sea as the sun set. They used a microphone to create their own soundtrack. One dancer used only animal sounds, and the other the kind of sounds you make before you speak: intake of breath, hesitation etc. They relationship between the sound and movement was ambiguous to me. Sometimes it seemed like a conversation, one side movement and the other sound. Other times it seemed like dancer with the microphone was dictating the movement of the other. I was reading all kinds of things in the relationship between the two men, so clearly the idea of playing with communication in such an intimate setting (the informal public setting, the proximity to the dancers and the use of voice and improvisation all made me feel close to the work), is one that provokes a lot of thought. Although the work showed a difficult, nonsensical, and strange type of communication, there was something very human in it for me, the relationship between the two men was very real and interesting although it was ambiguous.
I also saw Avner the Eccentric, a performer from the USA, in the Angela Peralta theatre. It was a clowning show, entirely done through mime, facial expression, use of props, the occasional sound, but no words at all. The show hinged on the easy, endearing way Aver engaged with the audience. He created a character that was very real and human, he formed relationships with certain audience member who he came back to again and again, and he got everyone to participate, at one point conducting the whole audience like an orchestra. The reaction was amazing, everyone was laughing, everyone got the show completely, there was absolutely no idea of difficultly of communication across languages or cultures. I think it was because the show appealed to basic ideas of humour and interaction: gesture, repetition, exaggeration, the element of surprise. Again the human element comes up: its not necessary to use words to convey and share a sense of humanity and realness with people. He was open and present onstage so people understood what he was doing.
Vella Fam, also from Spain but with four performers from Italy, Cataluña, Singapore and Mexico, performed Hijos del Harapo – Retablo de una Caida in La Casa Haas, another more intimate space with the audience arranged in a triangle of seating around a small performance space. This was my favourite work, it told the story of the fall of man through the idea of a journey out of paradise and a longing to return. The show was simple in scale: they had a chair, and apple, an acoustic guitar, a cane and a few other props, and they controlled a few lighting changes themselves during the show. But for me this was where the strength was. The simplicity drew me into the work so much and allowed the charisma of the performers to come through. The use of voice was amazing: the songs, chants and poetry the used filled the small space in a really intense way. The group have very international influences, and the piece was full of different languages and ideas from various traditions. Most of the actual story telling was done in Spanish, but the piece used so many different modes of communication as well that I was never felt lost. For me the piece was way more than the sum of its parts; by drawing from such a wide range of ways to tell their story, four people in a room with some props became something much more.
I guess all performers are looking for a connection, a communication, in different ways, but when you are in a different context to that which you are used to working in things might become more difficult. Maybe work that can function outside of its own context needs to find a way of communicating on a deeper, or a different level. This week I broadened my horizons a bit in terms of mediums I might draw from, and ideas I might use in my own research.
Hijos de Harapo