The SPILL festival is upon us again, for its second, bigger and bolder edition since the first SPILL festival in 2007. Fill your diary with three weeks of the finest experimental live art that Pacitti Company have drawn together from around the world and follow them to all the coolest venues in town: Shunt Vaults, Soho Theatre, the Barbican, Toynbee Studios, Shoreditch Town Hall... nearly 100 live performances, the SPILL feasts, critical writing boot camp, salons, a few films and a 'thinker in residence' is in the mix. We were challenged, we were intrigued, we were entranced and energised by the last one. What will we feel for SPILL in 2009? Well, we made a start last night...
Rajni Shah's Dinner with America involves a single figure, starting out as Miss Havisham and slowly disrobing to become Cherry Vanilla (that's Paris Hilton for younger readers) whilst endlessly intoning Amazing Grace. Meanwhile, assistants sweep up the complex pattern of leaves arranged around the space.
There is no regular seating and the audience is encouraged to sit, stand, sprawl or stroll around the event. Simple repetitive movements in dimly lit spaces which invite one to ponder meaning and symbolism appeal to us; in this case, the nature of America and how we engage with it. Are the leaves being swept up as an allusion to the initial rebellion against Britain and the dumping of tea in Boston harbour? Or is it about American cultural hegemony obliterating the complex patterns of other cultures? Whichever, there is a constant dinner time chat of recorded American voices giving their take on the United States and its symbols whilst Havisham-Vanilla-Hilton (which is a top name if you want your child to grow up mental) keeps on turning and gracing.
Eventually she gets not only her kit but her face off too which is interesting and a good point to stop. Not good enough for the performers though as there follows a whole other bit involving a mock dinner party and the handing out of cards with "what does freedom mean to you?" inscribed on them. We fell for that one because freedom of course means the possibility of leaving overly-long art performances before they finish. And so we did.
Don't let this put you off as there were good ideas in Dinner with America it's just the courses went on far too long. Do check out some of the other splendid bits of the Spill Festival (we're at the Barbican for Pacitti's 'A Forest' tonight - Ed) in particular, the very wonderful Kira O'Reilley at Shunt next weekend.
Dinner With America as witnessed by Chris Roberts
SPILL Festival runs till 26 April at various venues. Check the website for more information and keep a look out for reviews of more challenging performances right here.