Greenwich and Docklands Festival

Feature in Issue 18-4 | Winter 2006

A tractor had been augmented by a powerful DJ tower, making it some kind of disco-tractor; it moved forward in reverse, at slow-walking speed, and sent out beats which ruled the masses. Guys in hoodies were out in force, apparently having a time. I also saw a couple of about 70 years of age dancing along to pumping house music.

COMPAGNIE OFF, the French street artists (who at the 2003 Greenwich and Docklands Festival did a bizarre and much-talked-about performance where two opera singers on a raised stage were chased through East London by luminous red giraffes) were back, in LES ROUES DE COULEURS, to roll a load of varicoloured wheels – ranging in size from man- to house-size – down Roman Road in Bow. Not much happened other than the music and the wheels and occasional explosions that rained paper discs onto the crowd, but the energy was infectious. The procession ended in Mile End Park, where the two largest colour wheels were lifted by crane and turned into spinning hypno-discs. There was another explosion, a wave of heat from it, and then the Cie Off performers (covered in clay, looking alien) shook hands with the front-rank audience. I think for 90% of the park it would have been a lost transition – distance to closeness, macro to micro – and even from close up (I was close up) the sense of resolution was spoiled slightly by the fact that the damn big colour wheels were still there. I know it was a difficult thing to bring to an end, but letting the DJs reign over the park for a little while longer instead of shutting them off might have kept the atmosphere going while people’s attention drifted away from the performers.

STRANGE FRUIT: six performers on six flexible but (one hopes) unbreakable poles. Strapped in at the legs, they undulated and drew slow circles in the air. They did precise figures-of-eight, narrowly avoiding hitting each other. They danced a little. They leaned back and then threw themselves forward, reaching forward. Picture a long dive with a wide parabola, dived, then thrown into reverse. Looking up at the performers put the gigantic sun-glazed towers of Canary Wharf into view, which maybe projected the piece’s themes of alienation and loneliness onto the cityscape, but mostly just looked nice. Mood shifts were a little weird sometimes — happy dancing to intense, desperate reaching (there was a lot of reaching). The slow-motion spectacle of people falling and then being yanked back up again was at times repetitious and strange, giving me the creeps, plus the performers’ faces were heavily made-up and they were all formally dressed, which of course caused further creeps. But this was the lesser part, and necessary to give the scenes where the performers worked hard to join hands some emotional depth. These scenes worked in a predictable and manipulative, yet real, sort of way; but the best was when each of the six performers picked someone from the crowd to fall in love with, then acted out a little routine. The longest and sweetest was a woman trying to give a grounded man a single flower. She kept urging him to jump and throwing herself forward, closer each time. When she finally made it all the way and handed him the flower, the audience cheered.

This article in the magazine

Issue 18-4
p. 31