Theatre preview: The Traverse Autumn Festival 2011
Published on 15 November 2011 // Scotland on Sunday // Mark Fisher
The Traverse is living up to its name by crossing genre boundaries in its Autumn Festival, writes Mark Fisher
ARTISTIC director Dominic Hill may have switched his address from the Traverse to the Citizens, but his spirit is still being felt in Edinburgh, where the Traverse Autumn Festival 2011 is about to begin. Introduced by Hill three years ago, the ten-day event is an attempt to widen the creative palette of a theatre known primarily as a home for playwrights.
Like January’s Manipulate puppet festival, the Autumn Festival brings into the building a set of artists whose starting point is something other than the spoken word. They include choreographers, musicians and puppeteers, and their techniques embrace everything from video to ceilidh dancing.
The programme includes The Shoogle Project, a tremendously enjoyable collaboration between Plan B dance company and folk band Shooglenifty. One minute it’s a gig, the next it’s a dance show, then before you know it, it’s a hooley for the audience.
Likewise, although dance is at the heart of Company Chordelia’s Miranda, music and visual theatre are integral too. Similarly, Shona Reppe is often described as a puppeteer, but her excellent show for children, The Curious Scrapbook Of Josephine Bean, owes as much to visual art and video technology as it does to object theatre.
Overseeing the season at the Traverse, literary officer Jennifer Williams says the festival is a way of bringing other artforms and other audiences into the building:“ “All these artforms entail collaboration on some level – even a traditional collaboration between a dancer and a musician – and once we get these more form-busting collaborations it becomes more exciting.”
Williams has a particular interest in Noisy Words, a collision between her own year-round Words, Words, Words programme that gives writers a chance to hear their work read aloud in an informal setting, and John Harris’s Noisy Nights, which does the same thing for composers. In Noisy Words, Williams and Harris will come together with five writers and five composers for an intensive weekend collaboration, culminating in a performance with three actors. “We wanted to compress the collaboration into a tight space of time to raise the intensity,” she says. “We’ve got an amazing quality of submissions, so the kind of work we get out of people, even in such a short time, should be really exciting.”
Elsewhere in the ten-day season, choreographer Liv Lorent of balletLORENT is blurring the boundary between audience and performer in La Nuit Intime, a study of intimacy performed in the most intimate way. The show takes place in the Traverse bar (you can also see it tomorrow at the Arches in Glasgow) with ten dancers appearing at close range to an audience that is free to move, chat and drink as they would on any other night. “La Nuit Intime is me wanting to share with audiences the best seat in the house that I have, which is inches away from the dancers,” says Lorent.
If you like blurred boundaries, look no further than Glasgow’s Cryptic, which long ago dropped the “Theatre” from its name because its productions had become impossible to define. At the Traverse, the company is presenting Little Match Girl Passion which, true to form, fields not only a cello and a choir, as you’d expect from a piece of contemporary music, but also a dancer and a video artist.
“I mainly call myself an artist as opposed to a director or a designer, because it can be quite limiting,” says Cryptic’s Josh Armstrong, who has worked as a director, dancer, choreographer and designer. “I see the performance as live art rather than theatre and I don’t worry too much about genres. In essence, Little Match Girl Passion is two staged concerts, taking pieces of music and making them theatrical.”
Armstrong and Williams agree there is nothing implicitly superior about mixed media performance and that the desire to work in this way has to have an artistic motivation. “The danger comes when people feel they need to use other artforms just to get funding or to market a show in a particular way,” says Williams. “That’s when you get shows that have way too many television screens and the audience is thinking, ‘Why is there all that stuff? Just act!’ Equally, artists can get stuck in one performative box and I would hope the work we’re doing here is giving people a bit of support and saying cross-platform work is welcome if they feel that’s the right way for them to express themselves.”
“I wouldn’t say collaboration is a good thing by itself,” adds Armstrong. “Unless it works there’s no point. There has to be a reason behind it.”
As Williams points out, the influence of the Autumn Festival can already be seen throughout the year at the Traverse, in its
relationships with John Harris’s Red Note Ensemble, the Manipulate festival and several dance companies. It will be interesting to see how these strands develop once Hill’s successor as artistic director Orla O’Loughlin takes her post in January. In the meantime, Williams is encouraging the exchange of ideas by inviting both artists and audiences to a party after the performance of Little Match Girl Passion on 22 November. “It’s a great time of year to have another festival in the building,” she says. “And the party is a chance for everyone to get together and talk about what they’ve been seeing.”
The Traverse Autumn Festival 2011, Friday until 27 November.