Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Faki Day 5: Naranjazul Theater Company (FR) and Skaraventer Project (IT)

Day 5 concluded the festival with three performances: a physical theatre performance about migration from Aaron Govea (half of Naranjazul Theater Company), a psychological exploration based on the writings of Steve Biko from Skaraventer Project, and a re-working of the Icarus myth by Pisa-based Azulteatro (IT). Unfortunately I missed the latter - the closing performance of the festival, because of a scheduling error that saw me running for the bus an hour earlier than I had planned. My apologies to the artists from Azulteatro - and their work Icarus Studio #2 - Towards Freedom will be the only show from the festival that I did not review.

Mundo Lunaticus

Mexico-born actor and director Aaron Govea relies on personal experience and research for this performance Mundo Lunaticus (from the Latin, meaning 'World Lunatic'), adapted for a solo performance at Faki. It's a series of vignettes about mobility, loosely following the migration of a single character and his (her?) encounters with authority, and the happenings of their inner psychology.

From the beginning, the text presents the identity crisis which comes with displacement from one's homeland. Immediately on entering the stage with a suitcase under each arm, a voiceover of the character asks 'who am I?', splitting the voice of the character into two, and in conversation with itself. This turns into a conversation with the live actor, and then the voiceover transforms into a woman's voice, further confusing expectations of subjectivity, with reassurances such as "I'm a native. I'm indigenous".

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Faki Day 3+4: Waddah Sinada (UK) and Nasheeka Nedsreal (GER)

The festival continues with two performances repeated over two nights. Both are outstanding in quality, and worth reading about. The festival continues in a haze of vegetarian lunches, new arrivals and sudden departures, with the final Day 5 fast approaching.

Born into Ruins

There’s something elusive about this dance work from choreographer Waddah Sinada, making its first showing at Faki Festival after a development here. It dodges categorisation in many ways, to the extent that, even after second viewing, I was left with lingering thoughts that I think will keep nagging me. It’s that kind of work, to me.

Nominally a critique of “the stereotypical images of power, violence and conflict” between men, and especially black men, the performance participates in literal reflection of the representation. Following some blue and red light flashes, the dancers (Sinada himself, with Rhys Dennis) burst out to the high energy Niggers are Scared of Revolution by The Last Poets. Movement falls into a pattern suggesting a repetition of the targeted clichés: posturing mingles with wrestling between the figures, who occasionally emerge to address the audience directly, questioningly.

It’s movement suggestive of exactly the power struggle that Sinada is trying to critique, and an interesting place to begin. The deconstruction follows: as the track stops, the figures are left breathing heavily, the stage suddenly a vacuum. Their initial power seemingly drained, the figures roll on with their movement – this time slower and more subtle, with the wrestle now almost ballet-like. Time seems to stop at this point, and the figures explore more vulnerable variations – drifting between co-ordination and division, and away from the audience and into their own, internal contemplation.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Interlude: Criticism, Vulnerability and Care

As these will be the last days of this writing platform, and potentially my last work as a critic, I will allow myself a brief interlude of self-analysis.

I find that criticism is, far from the way it’s often perceived, a position of extreme vulnerability. There is little respect or understanding for the work, a proliferation of poor critical writing, and critical thought in general is fading from the public sphere and media - replaced with commodified clickbait and easy answers based entirely in positivism and rejection of dialectics. “They don’t read what I write: they buy what I write”, as a friend said to me recently. It’s a commonly rolled-out  narrative now: far from building communities that are capable of self-reflection, we are increasingly constructing ones which follow pre-held beliefs and biases, making it difficult for anyone who sees critical thought as an integral part of community-building, and making open conflict between ideologies inevitable. Opinion is the new criticism.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Faki Day 2 - Blackism (GER) and Sifiso Seleme (RSA)

I'm just going to be honest: having arrived at midnight and madly scrambled to finish of my remaining deadlines, Day 2 of Faki (my first day) was one where I chased my own tail and tried desperately to make up for lost time. Such is the nature of this year's festival - normally precarious, this year it's built around a set of circumstances of eviction and withdrawal that are not necessarily conducive to art - which sometimes functions better in conditions which are less improvised.

Inevitably, the art and artists shone through anyway, and if there's any pressure, it didn't show in the performances. The day began with Blackism Collective's Back To, partly coming out of a residency at the festival, moved on to Sifiso Seleme's Extra Ordinary, and finished with a forum, led (a bit shoddily) by myself, regarding the responses to the call out from the festival. More on the latter later.

Back to

New Berlin-based collective Blackism –consisting of performance artist Nasheeka Nedsreal and actress Adrian Blount and dedicated to ‘decolonizing our entirety and centering blackness’ - bring us Back To, the result of development at Faki festival, following months of research.

The performance sees the duo slide through various ‘modes’, proceeding through some key texts regarding black identity. Poet Langston Hughes’ Notes on a Commercial Theatre appears, as does rapper Wale’s Black is Beautiful and sections from playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs, as well as intersectional feminist and social activist bell hooks. Two white masks are employed by the performers, probably a representation of the white identity forced upon people of colour. This is reinforced with a clever reversal of the household phrase “do unto others as you would unto yourself”, spoken like a prayer by Blount behind the white mask, before its sudden removal and twisting of the phrase into an accusation on the repetition. It points at a particular truth – that, in the reality of race politics, 'do unto other' means something quite other to its literal interpretation.

The choice of dance shows a fascination with various styles – from schoolyard ‘clap games’ to ballet. Moving through the transitions leads the performers into fairly impossible singing positions, although I’m sure people in opera would be squirming in their seats. They carry it off incredibly, and I don’t think I’ve seen a note maintained quite so well while the torso is twisted at 90˚.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Blackness, and Faki Festival 2017, 23-27 May

***This writing platform is temporarily revived over the next week, for Faki Festival 2017***

In closing this writing platform last year, I partly acknowledged that my voice - and as this is largely a personal project, it is my voice - is not the best one to do the work that needs to be done. That situation has not changed, and poring over South African black rights activist Steve Biko's writings, part of this year's festival theme of 'Blackness', only reinforces this sense of doubt that my own position is of any value to public discourse at the moment. This quote, for example: "Nowhere is the arrogance of the liberal ideology demonstrated so well as in their insistence that the problems of the country can only be solved by a bilateral approach between black and white" affronts me with the impossibility of my own position -  in this case, invited to moderate discussion and interviews at Faki Festival 2017.

To put it in plain terms: Just how, following what I view as two major race-hate events in the United Kingdom and United States in 2016, am I able to lead discussion regarding a topic such as Blackness with any legitimacy? What possible answers can I discover? Is there even any productive position to find?

But let me (and I will let myself) get up off the floor, and attempt.

Statue of Steve Biko outside East London's City Hall, South Africa (Creative Commons)

Ironically, the controversy surrounding Faki Festival this year can be seen as a microcosm of where the world is at in terms of its economic and cultural pressures. Besieged by dramas, including the threatened closure by Zagreb City Council for not having 2 fire exits in every room (a specification almost none of the official buildings in Zagreb adhere to) and reeling under the departure of its long-term curator Irena Curik who planned much of the festival, not to mention tackling a difficult theme head-on in a country not known for its racial tolerance, it is clear that, whatever happens, Faki 2017 is going to take precarity to a whole new level.