"Spill is all about ideas and, without exception, all of the work in the festival has something to say... or ask... or suggest" - Robert Pacitti, artistic director, Spill Festival.
We're excited about the Spill Festival and have eagerly taken on the challenge of seeing as many of the international performances / pieces / events as possible. And we use the word challenge deliberately: our first performance set the standard, we think we know now what the programmers are intending to do to us once we've arrived and taken our seats. This is no easy season of slightly quirky work designed to court tabloid outrage and extended off-West End runs. This is work that poses questions, pushes boundaries and puts reviewers in rather difficult positions.
Our first Spill Festival performance was choreographer and performer Raimond Hoghe's Sacre - The Rite of Spring, a short (50 minutes approximately) piece of ritualised movement performed to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring by Hoghe and dancer Lorenzo De Brabandere in the Barbican Pit. It was on for two nights only so though we'd like to, we can't recommend you book tickets to see it. It was a dance performance so we could review it as such, but the terminology and techniques don't fit so we can't. We want to tell you what we saw but can't see how that would be relevant to you unless you had meant to see it but couldn't get a ticket (both nights were sold out). What we can do is treat the Spill Festival as one long, experimental performance made up of many individual events and review each component as part of this overall work, and see what happens as the festival unfolds.
Hoghe's Sacre - The Rite of Spring was difficult. It was remote and emotionally derelict, a deliberate directorial choice in a piece about ritual and rite but that didn't help the audience engage on an instinctive level. It didn't allow the audience to easily go with their feelings because we didn't know what we should feel, we didn't know if the two men on stage were feeling anything. They performed their movements with completely blank faces, often facing each other and repeating short sequences several times. Should we have been moved? Was this love? Should we have mourned or celebrated with them? Whatever the rituals were meant for, we were only witnessing the ritual performed by two men already removed from it themselves and so the audience were always at two removes from the emotional core. And yet... we were elated at the end of it, as uplifted and transported as at the witnessing of any sacred ceremony.
Stravinsky's score crashed and banged around the rapt audience, its drama charged the small, repetitive movements with solemnity and the grace peculiar to ritual. Hoghe chose not to follow the rhythms and beats of the music in his choreography but instead react to the changes in tempo so his relationship to the score was private and profound. For several years, Hoghe was dramaturge for Pina Bausch, an evocative name for anyone with interest in late twentieth century dance and indicative of the kind of experience we had watching this piece.
Recognisable movements such as the removal of shoes, laying of a cloth upon the floor, washing of the face in a bowl of water were elevated to almost religious piety. Hoghe is crooked, small and old and De Brabandere is athletic, young and fit; they were in every way unequal except in their identical movements, a single unit with moveable parts and still recognisable individuals. They were at times in perfect harmony, at other times on the verge of repelling one another. Combined with the dramatic music and the austerity of the black box set, it was a highly charged piece, emotionally loaded and emotionally obscure at the same time. We knew great depths of feeling were involved, but what these feelings were (Fear? Anguish? Joy?) we don't know.
We had quite an unusual and challenging time, our feelings and thoughts had been obstructed, obscured then stirred, then deeply moved in unclear ways. It was all over before 8pm. We stood blinking in the theatre foyer, not sure what had just happened and what we were going to think about it. We just knew, as Pacitti insists, that Hoghe's Rite of Spring had "something to say... or ask... or suggest" and we were glad to have been there for this key performance in the first week of the Spill Festival programme. More to come, we're pleased to say...
For more information on the Spill Festival programme, go to the website here.