Sunday, June 7, 2015

Faki Festival, and exquisite anarchy

It was with excitement and anticipation that I boarded the bus for Zagreb and Faki - a theatre festival I knew little about. My expectations from the programming were for a fairly radical time, and my appetite was whet by, among other juicy provocative phrases, the festival press release's proud exclaimation:

"The international Festival of Alternative Theatre Expression was first organized in 1998, in reaction to the elitism, but also commercialization of the institutionalized cultural scene, defined by political and artistic one-sidedness to the point of obstructing the independent avant-garde, subversive and experimental practice of theatre and performing artists.
Admission to the entire festival is free of charge. On principle."


Photo: Merima Salkić

Part theatre festival, part rave, Faki seems to run on a kind of anaemic energy usually reserved for those at the extremes of life, which indeed some were. Amongst the Mad Max 2 style junkyard fortress of the Autonomous Cultural Centre Attack!, a former medical factory, one can party hard, sleep hard, art hard - everything turned up to 11, and a kind of sublime, with a beautiful community surrounding it, bouncing from conversation to conversation about the work in a kind of never-ending rigorous dialogue.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


This is an actress. This is a piece of theatre. This is not real. It's a performance.

So I had to keep telling myself during DivanOccidentaleOrientale's IVETOTELLUSOMETHING, a piece of microtheatre in a bathroom, on this occasion executed by Italian actress Rosa Palasciano. The performance, so says the sprawling description, speaks of a crisis, failure, or precarity. These are common themes for artists today as they try grapple with an increasingly shallow and difficult world, at once moving too quickly for tragedy, not quickly enough for comedy. The search is for some genuine, authentic connection, and the fear is that the days in which that might be possible have now passed.

Photo: Merima Salkić

The performance is in a bathroom, and for one person only. So there's a lot of standing around waiting whilst Rosa - adorned in coat tails and a pencil moustache - grandly sweeps out of the bathroom to semi-seductively select her next victim, and plenty of time to imagine what the hell is going on in there. Yet more intrigue when you see the faces of the post-ops, grimacing or strained with discomfort. Still, of course when it came, it surprised me. I don't know if it was the awkwardness of the encounter, the manufactured nature of it, the feeling that I should feel something. After putting on the headphones, I am suddenly conscious that I am standing in a bathroom with a stranger, who is manipulating my movements, staring at me expectantly.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Faki: Paulina

The Mexican-US border is a awful scenario, exponentially getting worse. This was the case even before 1994's NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement that saw thousands of US companies set up shanty towns just over the border, another happy new frontier for capitalism, in search of lower wages, less rights, less protection, and a freely exploitable workforce (read: the usual). Mix this in with the social problems from a sudden influx of workers without infrastructure or housing, long history of drug trade and human trafficking and you gotcha selfa helluva neoliberal cocktail, buoy.

If that sounds bitter, it's difficult to look at a work like Paulina, adapted from the play La Casa de la Fuerza (The House of Strength) by Catalonian playwright Angela Liddell about the 2008 rape and murder of the titular 16 year old girl, without a heavy dose of anger about how these circumstances were created in the first place, nor a sense that this is not an individual case. Performer Clémence Caillouel never lets us forget this - by staring at us in a kind of clown-like accusation for the entire 50-minute duration of Paulina. The text is haunting - taking as its recurring theme a song about rag dolls - but it almost feels unneccessary in the face of this optical assault. Caillouel's at once pathetic, at once powerful glare asks a tragic, silent question about the rape and murder of a human being. In some sense it's an old question, also raising an old paradox seemingly destined to recur until the end of time - in what supposedly ethical world can this happen?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Faki: Untitled

Some performances don't ask for criticism - they just need someone to write down what happened.

You could pick out stylistic or technical elements of Elisa Arteta's dance experiment Untitled - some kind of hypnotic, repetitive rhythm of feet-on-floor, the artist's address to us also seeming to tumble along perpetually. The fact that the seating was in-the-round.

You could pick these out - but it would be irrelevant. This work, like any political work, is about you.

Photo: Merima Salkić


A grey, flourescent-lit room. Arteta, dressed in sweatpants and a pink hoodie, warms up as the audience enters, before gently evolving this into her 'work' - literally, a simple dancer's exercise in leading with body parts and weight-transfer. She begins to speak a text - a response to Judith Butler, some loosely connected thoughts surrounding her 'political body', and the various ways in which it may be formed or employed.

Then she says "you can leave when you want". And she keeps working.

And now, it's over to you.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Piece of Plastic

I had a lot of problems with Marius von Mayenberg's most recent play - I have tried to explain why over at Exeunt Magazine (UK).

Here's the link: