Emergency Entrance

Feature in Issue 19-2 | Summer 2007

Beccy Smith goes to the greenroom for a taste of what’s new in the North West.

Emergency (launched October 2006 at Manchester’s innovative arts centre, greenroom) is an event which wears a coat of many colours. It’s a showcase, a two-day smorgasbord of morsels from artists on the edge of emerging; it’s also a process – a live assessment of artists applying for the package of artistic, practical and financial support offered by greenroom’s Method Lab commissions; it is both regional in flavour and national in its strong vision of contemporary and experimental performance practice. It’s at the same time a forum – the fact that many audience members stay throughout offers ample opportunity to discuss and ‘review’ work by their peers – and it’s a networking party, attended by a healthy, heady mix of industry heavyweights, artists and students. It is also a unique opportunity to see and/or show an enormous range of new contemporary arts practice in the North West.

The range and diversity of performance on offer was energising, and the sheer logistics of getting everything up and roughly to time were impressive, especially when every part of greenroom’s multilayered space was in use. The use of site, however, was perhaps the least successful aspect of the programming, with events occurring in public spaces that weren’t geared towards intervening in the audience’s chit-chat, or whose scale simply felt wrong. There were exceptions though: Caution Horses’ impressive reinvention of the cramped, dank space of a graffitied gents toilet confronted English etiquette with engagingly surreal performance moments. Similarly Crimpers of Fire’s So You Think You’re Gay? capitalised knowingly on the combination of a cabaret setting with the transparent liberalism of the audience to set up some genuinely unnerving moments during their lecture-demonstration on sexual/cultural politics.

Analysis of cross-artform, non-linear performance or live art-based work is notoriously loaded, with subjectivity of response inevitable. From a dramaturgical perspective I focus on the work’s success in recasting ideas or experiences, its unity or integrity of intention, and the creation of an arresting relationship with an audience. In these terms there were some notable performances. Roz Norbury’s Bathtime was a lyrically simple piece of self-revelation, in which form perfectly complemented content. The vertiginous shifts in tone offered by Sinead King in Looking for Love – Sex is just another Dance were genuinely exhilarating. The day’s closing performance, How to kill a Rabbit, combined menace with mayhem in its story of homespun dirty bombs, capturing the bewildering array of feelings and responses provoked by the subject.

The remit for Emergency focuses squarely on artists’ development through offering space, audience and a resonating context. There were problems with the work – decisions fluffed, poorly thought through or rendered ideas, occasionally some old-fashioned bod acting – but this is part and parcel of putting new work out there. Cumulatively, in an astonishing eleven hours of programming, there was a huge amount to excite, provoke and entertain. I left feeling not only that I had shared with some intriguing artists early steps in their development, but that as an audience member and practitioner I had developed too.

Referenced Festivals
Referenced Venues

This article in the magazine

Issue 19-2
p. 17