Luke Pell’s library event In the Ink Dark.

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Radical empathy and real engagement: Take Me Somewhere 2019

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Luke Pell’s library event In the Ink Dark. Photo © Jassy Earl
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Róisín O’Brien
Dance artists at Glasgow’s genre-crossing festival of experimental performance take you beyond performance itself

In 2015, Glasgow venue The Arches was forced to cease operations when its nightclub, which had supported much of its programme, was shut down. The Take Me Somewhere festival was launched in 2017 to build on the venue’s legacies. Artistic experimentation is key and programmed pieces are categorised as ‘performance’, rather than strictly demarcated as theatre, dance or music.

Consequently, the dance artists featured in Take Me Somewhere not only work with other media, but also question the very nature of performance: why do we gather in these contexts? Could there be other reasons apart from spectatorship and spectacle? Many of the pieces presented offer different proposals for collective action and engagement, from (un)comfortable audience interaction to radical empathy and kindness.

Farah Saleh dives into the abyss into which British politics has fallen in Brexit means Brexit!. Dancers Robert Hesp and Tanja Erhart open the piece standing apart on stage, fraught. After a choreographed interlude where they tussle and pull at each other, Saleh asks the audience to come onto the stage; rather than judge, they must join in.

This movement from viewer to actor is fitting for a piece exploring a political moment that has not only exposed divisions hidden within vastly unequal living conditions and behind social media bubbles, but exacerbated them. By bringing bodies together into a space, disrupting their preferred arrangements, Saleh creates a powerful physical connection that differs sharply from the inanity of constantly updating broadcast news and personalised twitter feeds. It is powerful in principle, though in this context the audience is notably one-sided: ‘not all Brexit voters are racist’ fails to achieve genuine understanding, as it presumes the leave voter is still, nonetheless, wrong.


Exploitative? Audience members perform for money in Ivo Dimchev’s P Project

In Ivo Dimchev’s P Project, audience members are invited on stage and, in exchange for money, asked to perform different acts (from writing poetry to fully simulated naked sex). No dancers are allowed up to perform, only those less at ease in their bodies.

Is this exploitative? Does the fact that it knowingly exploits audiences change things? Dimchev is totally at ease on stage. The show could go to the Venice Biennale, he says wryly, aware of a thirst for ‘provocation’. While the performed acts are consensual, there are deliberately deceitful moments when the terms change, tripping the participants up. It’s a physically direct exploration of commodification and consent that uncovers the audience’s desire to be tantalised – and then not only bluntly delivers it, but stamps on it, turning it into a banal financial transaction. Does its self-aware slippage between radical acts and ‘cheap’ tricks let it off the hook, critically? It’s certainly part of Dimchev’s game.


High engagement: Sonic Séance by V/DA

P Project is followed by Sonic Séance by V/DA. A collaborative creation and performance, the performers are a mix of visual artists, choreographers, and musicians. It’s a slightly unstructured yet compelling patchwork of impassioned calls, shimmering costumes, linking and swaying movements coupled with strong stances, and driving vocals. In one scene, the four performers sit in a line behind each other. With krump-like pulses, and an impeccably precise kaleidoscope of limbs that pump out, it’s a powerful, emphatic display of skill and conviction. While in many ways the most conventionally ‘performed’ piece included here, V/DA’s ardent performers and dialogic ethos demands high engagement from its audience: to listen, rather than simply consume and move on.

Moving to gentler but not necessarily less considered pieces, Luke Pell’s In the Ink Dark is set in a public library, a communal place which has suffered from budget cuts under austerity in Britain. Audiences are invited to do as they wish for the hour. Garbed in dusty roobes, performers move through the library with relaxed gazes and inviting smiles. Their presence is both intimate and distant: they never fully engage you, but smile as though you are both in on some secret.

Calligraphers respond to the moving bodies by painting swirling portraits on large leaves of paper, and poems are read out. The movement feels unique to each individual, a choreography defined by personal texture and introspection, rather than overt outreach or group cohesion. It is hard to know how In the Ink Dark would be read by those who do not see much performance: a quiet, benign world to explore, or another abstract and beautiful but impenetrable piece?


Opening up the performing space: the teenagers of Ásrún Magnúsdóttir’s Listening Party

In Ásrún Magnúsdóttir’s Listening Party, there is little adult intervention. Local teenagers list their favourite songs (and why they’ve chosen them), and dance to the selection. Some dances have a simple group choreography, syncing up with lyrics in affirmative, jubilant gestures, while others are led by the more stage-savvy teenagers. The painful, all too recognisable dynamics of interpersonal relationships are writ large across the stage, conscious or not. For all its (apparent) lack of professional input, it is perhaps one of the strongest attempts to open up the performative space.

Take Me Somewhere’s programme raises a host of questions: who goes to performance, who makes the decisions about what that performance is, and what change can artists enact? Is a radical performance always the most confrontational one, or can it be more radical to teach compassion? 


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