Kicking Off

Feature in Issue 12-4 | Winter 2000

As part of the Belfast Festival last November, Kabosh hosted Ireland's first Physical Theatre Symposium. Alessandra Celesia was amongst the participants.

In Northern Ireland physical theatre is still a new cultural force. In this small triangle of land marked by a conflict that has culturally isolated it from the rest of Europe, text-driven political theatre is paramount. The majority of Northern Irish productions touch in some way on the theme of ‘the troubles', with text taking precedence over movement.

Whilst physical theatre is taken very much for granted in continental Europe, in Ireland only a few companies struggle to put body and space into the theatre vocabulary of the next generation. Helped along by favourable cultural policies, this handful of groups – including Barabbas, Blue Raincoat, Corn Exchange, Big Telly, Kabosh, Pan Pan and Ridiculusmus – produce a fresh and atypical theatre. One of these companies, Kabosh, recently organised Kicking Space, Ireland's first Physical Theatre Symposium, designed to promote and facilitate new partnerships and for practitioners from both sides of the border to meet and exchange skills.

Day 1

Under an extraordinary blue sky the first Irish Physical Theatre Symposium kicks off. Kabosh's artistic director, Karl Wallace, welcomes participants to the Cooke Centenary Hall and immediately the action begins. We spend the day experimenting with objects all linked by the theme of air, guided by Karl and Annie Ryan, director of the Dublin company Corn Exchange. They propose an interesting approach to chorus work and clarity of movement that leads to a presentation of work later that day.

Above us on the first floor we can hear the second group running and stamping their feet like crazy people. They are working with Belfast company Ridiculusmus. Someone says that the students are gagged and shut outside on the roof. We are curious – tomorrow we are with them.

Day 2

Still in shock. We now know that we are prisoners of two crazy visionaries who, with their rather singular method, called ARSFLOP, are shaking us to the roots of our souls. The 'O' of ARSFLOP stands for 'open your heart'. Open your heart and go where it takes you. The more it is dark, the more it is true, the better it is. It is about humour and humanity.

Annie Ryan is working today on Commedia dell'Arte. Based on the original Italian form, she creates modern characters that wear make-up instead of masks. The presentation of work is accompanied with rhythmic percussion.

Day 3

Three workshops run simultaneously today. Blue Raincoat, a Sligo company inspired by Decroux and the Suzuki technique, hold a workshop for the students of the Ulster Association of Youth Drama. Anne Gilpin, a Belfast-born dancer who now works in London, brings to her home town her experience in movement learnt at LAMDA. A very interesting dance company, Echo Echo, lead us through a world of cardboard boxes that dance with the body. Ursula and Steven, the artistic directors, met in Amsterdam at the School for New Dance Development and have travelled throughout Europe for many years. Strangely, it was after a show in Derry that they discovered that the Playhouse had a dance studio without a dancer. They decided to stop there, choosing Northern Ireland as their adoptive land and have never looked back. They say that there is a lot to do and that the relative scarcity of physical theatre is not a drawback but a challenge.

Whilst Echo Echo experiment with boxes, Dublin theatre company Pan Pan work with material and scissors. The two companies work together with participants to present a public performance at the end of the day – notions of sound, vibrations, space and experimentation all come into play.

Days 4,5 & 6

The last three days. The symposium has taken off and the atmosphere is electric. The students sleep little. Workshops by day, the shows of the Belfast Festival by night. Belfast seems for a week to be the centre of the world. Barabbas and Big Telly have arrived, two of Ireland's biggest companies – one from the south, one from the north – brought together by a concert of vacuum cleaners which goes down well at its public performance at 4.30pm.

Meanwhile Anne Gilpin teams up with international performer/puppeteer Adam Kronenberg to lead us on a voyage through lightness. Adam, originally from Australia, is spending this year in Belfast teaching at the Belfast Circus School.

All is new. All is at its beginnings. Sometimes these new directions are a little muddled but when they succeed the results are amazing. Such as the Kabosh show Mojo Mickybo, which was highly commended in the 1999 Total Theatre Awards and won a Dublin Fringe Festival award in the year before. Kabosh is beginning to export their work to England and across the Atlantic. Next year the company insist that the symposium will happen again, opening its doors for a second time to professionals from other countries.

For further information on Kicking Space contact Kabosh, Old Museum Arts Centre, 7 College Square North, Belfast BT7 3DZ.

This article in the magazine

Issue 12-4
p. 22