Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Spaceman at St James

It's not hard to work out why converted churches can make fantastic arts spaces - they have a substance and quality of build, a grace and beauty of proportion that later buildings, constructed to more utilitarian agendas, can lack. 

In particular, the height of such spaces (soaring up towards the heavens...), and their acoustic (for songs and prayers to rise upwards...) mark them as special.  And there is a fittingness also in that, where there were once communal gatherings for the rituals of birth, marriage and death, similar comings together still happen, art and culture having filled the space of religion in many people's lives.

Contemporary theatre, dance, art, (and even film, as the Branchage Film Festival proved again brilliantly this year) thrive in open or unusual spaces.

Watching Spaceman by Dudendance in St James recently, I was struck by the purity of the space - this was partly because of the minimalist set-up, the Quaker-like simplicity of the white costume and the deliberate slow control of pace, which encouraged a meditative concentration in the audience.

Jersey Arts Centre had invited Dudendance's Paul Rous and Clea Wallis to undertake a three-week residency in St James to develop Spaceman, (previously seen at the Edinburgh Fringe 2009 as part of The Arches at St Stephens, and British Dance Edition 2010) so we had the privilege of seeing a performance that had become attuned to the space - and maybe the other way round as well - the space becoming attuned to the performance...

Spaceman draws inspiration from astronaut training procedures and evolutionary physical processes and the performance morphs from female to male, from animalistic to robotic, and incorporates projected film, a Sci-Fi scenario written by Paul Rous and atmospheric sounds.

I was struck by how the piece combined paradoxically both an ethereal quality and a sense of tension, arising from the intensity of focus and physical control of the performer. I also like how it evaded easy analysis, making me want to experience it again, to understand the narrative or to make my own from the subtle interactions of sound, text, film, building, dance, costume, physical theatre, still-life picture-like moments, allusions...

There was a good question and answer session with the company after the performance, especially about the merits of process versus product - which crystalized for me the great benefit of the programme of residencies organised by Jersey Arts Centre in St James during 2010 - the opportunity afforded for both performers (including local actors) and audiences to enjoy and understand more about process, rather than just the focus on the final product.  The act of creating is exciting - from the conscious mind or the unconscious, from research, dreams or memories, from the body or the intellect...

More again next year please!

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