Chapter Arts Centre International Performance Festival

International Performance Festival Cardiff (Chapter Arts Centre)

Chelsey Gillard was at Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre’s first International Performance Festival to review a variety of performances.

Over the last fortnight performers from all around the world have come to Cardiff to share their artistic responses to the world as they see it. These responses have come in many forms, from experimental theatre to performance art, to installations. Here is a round of a few of the events that happened in the second week.

Wednesday night saw Boltonian theatre-maker Josh Coates exploring the role of storytelling in theatre in his debut solo-performance Particles. The young performer offered a wonderful, meandering set that often felt like a gentle standup routine and certainly had the audience laughing. His material flirted with ideas of philosophy, physics and politics whilst allowing his natural humour to shine through.

As the premise of the performance the same story, about a man receiving a phone call, was revisited multiple times. In each retelling a slight detail would change; a small change that often resulted in profound consequences. Although the performer’s idealistic world view felt like an impossible fantasy the overall message was one of love, happiness and community spirit, urging us all to be the change we want to see.

Performing in one of Chapter’s small meeting rooms Josh was able to create an intimate environment that complimented his energetic performance and genuine audience interaction.

Definitely one to watch.

Throughout the week one of the festival’s resident artists, Hellen Sky, worked in Chapter’s rarely used Loft space opening up her studio to anyone who wanted to see it. On Saturday she presented the work she had created throughout the residency in a mammoth four hour open-sharing process that attendees could dip and out of.

The resulting performance, Spheres of Influence/ The Nature of Force, combined installation, storytelling and movement. The Melbourne based artist used found objects to create a fascinating world of installations, including a tapestry of orange plastic mesh interwoven with plastic bags and an intricate system of strings and pulleys, suspending small, heavy spheres from the ceiling.

As she moved throughout this created environment, the sounds of the ocean swelling and crashing filled the room. The floor was marked with tide lines, and pebbles were scattered throughout. There was a definite feeling of being on the shore line, an ever changing place of possibilities.

There was definitely something fascinating about this piece, especially as Hellen herself presents a wonderfully eccentric personality and is very watchable. Having said this it was best enjoyed in small doses, to catch just glimpses of the often slow moving performance.

In the main theatre another unique world was created by a truly international group of performers. One of Australia’s leading contemporary theatre groups, Ranters theatre, joined forces with Brazilian contemporary artist Laura Lima and Cardiff based James Tyson (also the festival creator) to produce Song.

Described at a ‘living installation’ Song provided a beautiful sensory experience that is rare in theatre. Each audience member had their own patch of Astroturf to sit, knee or lie on as a world of sound, smell and light was created around them.

The amazing sound rig could make you believe a huge bee was buzzing past you as you sat in a park on a sunny day or make you jump as a loud seagull disturbed the quiet of the seaside at sunset. The soundscapes were often breath-taking and the subtle lighting really made you feel like you had been transported to somewhere new.

Sadly these beautiful experiences were punctuated by songs performed by hidden singers. Although clearly very talented in their own right, for me, the voices of the performers did not suit each other and they certainly would not win any awards for their lyrics. In a concert format these tunes may have gained a very different response but they felt like an unwelcome intrusion in the delicately formed environments.

You really could get lost, just enjoying the sounds and smells, whilst watching the large light-box turn from sun to moon. A really engrossing experience that can be enjoyed by anyone. The production feels like a living and constantly developing thing and it would be a joy to experience it again.

As the very first International Performance Festival this fortnight has seen a lot of experimental and exciting things happening throughout the city. It would be great if this could become a regular feature in the performing arts scene of Cardiff as all the work presented challenged some conventions of ‘traditional’ performance, opening out the possibilities of theatre. A bit more rough and ready that Chapter’s own Experimentica and certainly bringing together artists from around the world, this festival will only grow and get even better.


International Performance Festival, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

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