DanceDramaPhysical TheatreReviewSouth West

Best of BE Festival – Circomedia, Bristol

Companies: Oliver Zahn, Sotterraneo & Compagnie Philippe Saire

Reviewer: Becca Savory Fuller

Three groundbreaking performance companies. One night. Best of BE Festival takes three radically different performances from companies across Europe and leaves us open-mouthed. Drawing across dance, performance, physical theatre and live art, the genre-bending selection of pieces presents an exciting picture of European theatre arts today.

We begin with Situation with Outstretched Arm, from German director Oliver Zahn, with performance and voice from Sara Tamburini and Helmut Becker. The piece centres on the one-armed ‘Hitler salute’ adopted by the German Nazi party. Presented as an essay-demonstration, it decontextualises the symbolic gesture from its contemporary associations and traces its history within art and politics. Can this gesture be emptied of its symbolic and political content through its recontextualisation within art? The discussion leads us to German artist Jonathan Meese, who was tried and acquitted in 2013 for performing Nazi salutes in his artworks and an interview. In Germany, the salute is banned along with other Nazi symbols. Situation with Outstretched Arm asks us to reflect on the distinction between art and life, throwing light on this symbolic gesture as a point of friction between individual bodies and the state, between political ideology and artistic expression.

Overload by Italian company Sotterraneo takes the Best of BE Festival into a new direction, with a fast-paced physical comedy. Goldfish have an attention span of nine seconds. Scientists find that the average human attention span has fallen to eight seconds. Our technologically-enhanced lives are continually disrupted, interrupted, distracted. Sotterraneo plays with this idea to brilliant effect, spinning off the energy created by ruptures and interruptions. The four performers, Sara Bonaventura, Claudio Cirri, Lorenza Guerrini, and Daniele Pennati, play with the audience and each other in this lively, humorous and thought-provoking reflection on modern life.

Finally Vacuum, by Swiss group Compagnie Philippe Saire, draws together the themes of body and rhythm presented in the first two pieces. Saire directs, with choreography and performance from Philippe Chosson and Gyula Cserepes. Performed in near darkness between two dazzling strips of light, two dancers’ bodies swim in and out of view. The effect is mesmerising and highly visceral; bodies appear and disappear like deep-sea creatures, like half-formed dreams. The play of light and ink-black shadow creates ever-evolving landscapes on the surface of their moving bodies. The undulations of a back and spine seem to gape like an open mouth. A hip, thigh and rib cage curl like a fist. The performers appear to defy the laws of physics, confusing our sense of gravity as they flow around each other, in and out of view, like water. In this space of deep contrasts, the images are seared in our minds, leaving the audience perplexed and astonished.

Best of BE Festival offers a rich and varied flavour of the event as a whole, which lands in Birmingham in July 2017. Based on this three-act appetiser, the festival promises to be a fabulous feast.

Runs until 6 May 2017 | Image: Alex Brenner

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