JOYCE MCMILLAN on ARCHES LIVE! 2011 at the Arches Theatre, Glasgow, for Scotsman Arts 23.9.11
4 stars ****
IN A WHITE STUDIO SPACE in the basement of the Arches, a group of eight people are standing in a semicircle, staring at the strange arrangement of objects in front of them. They are the audience for Euan Ogilvie’s Bystander Effect; and they are standing by a wooden contraption with the odd wheel and lever about it, attached by a rope and hook to a deflated inflatable human figure, full of pig’s blood. Ogilvie has introduced the scene, forbidden us to cross the ropes that mark the area where the body lies, and left, saying he will return in ten minutes; but 25 minutes on, we’re still standing around abandoned in the room, gently pressurised not to leave by an usher at the door, while some bold souls clinb the ropes to take a closer look at the figure, and other – like me – just waste time arguing the toss.
Infuriating, thought-provoking, and preoccupied with when and how it’s OK to break the rules, Ogilvie’s installation makes a fine curtain-raiser to the first round of shows in this year’s autumn Arches Live! festival, which features no fewer than 32 shows, installations, and events over the next ten days, all designed to explore the outer limits of contemporary performance. Across the corridor from Bystander Effect is Tom Scullion’s Play(Station), an open invitation to spend minutes or hours playing retro 1990’s video games, while questioning the assumption that by enjoying ourselves in this way, we are somehow “wasting our time”.
Next door, we’re about to receive a blast of Beats, the latest work-in-progress from Kieran Hurley, whose last Arches piece Hitch has become a major Fringe success; to judge by the fragment presented here, this short show about the rave phenomenon of the 1990’s, promptly outlawed by the UK government, is set to become another blisteringly well-written piece of stage poetry about a generation’s struggle to redefine the world in its own terms. Later in the evening, there’s Flatrate Theatre’s Backbone And Navel No. 3, a female creation myth – with a text full of quotes from writers like Theodor Adorno and Helene Cixous – that explores the great transgressive moment when Eve bites into the apple.
And down at the rough end of the basement, in a bare tunnel of a room, there’s composer Nichola Scrutton’s Songs For A Stranger, a 25-minute piece that moves beyond the limits of language into five segments of abstract electronic sound, accompanied by the increasingly fierce and brilliant vocal improvisations of Scrutton and her performing partner, Celine Hanni. There’s a central moment of meditation – titled Solitude – that recalls the deep resonances of Tibetan chant; then a final, shattering visit to what sounds like a dying rainforest, as a fierce richness of animal sound gives way to crackling cataclysm, and the soft, low sigh of a final breath. Arches Live! 2011 is up and raging, in other words; and the only question is whether it can move beyond protest against the flawed rules of a failed system, towards a serious blueprint for new times.