Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Postcards from Estonia

Once again, this is [was] being written at an altitude of 35,000 ft over the North Sea as Postcards flies back from a six-day jaunt in Estonia under the auspices of the FIT Mobile Lab. This time for the country’s “Baltoscandal” festival in the town of Rakvere. Baltoscandal, it should be noted, apparently has nothing to do with “scandal” (although the Estonian word for scandal is confusingly similar), but with its roots as a festival of Baltic-Scandanavian theatre/dance/performance/live-art.

Of the four FIT festivals I’ve attended so far (Munich, Helsinki, London and Rakvere), Baltoscandal was perhaps by far the most artistically successful. It faces stiff competition from Munich, largely because the programme at Munich exposed me to work that absolutely floored me in terms of how far it was beyond what gets produced in Britain, in terms of experimentation. Interestingly, what stuck out about Munich was the level of technology being deployed in the works shown. I don’t know if that is a peculiarity of the festival director’s taste, an intentional theme for that particular festival or just pure coincidence – after all, SpielArt in Munich ran for much longer than the five days we were there – showing a huge range of works, including Tim Etchell’s collaboration with Victoria That Night Follows Day.

Either way, my perception of what theatre could be was comprehensively re-wired permanently. Even if the work doing the re-wiring wasn’t necessarily the most realised I’d ever seen, there was something about the level of experimentation and difference that really excited me. Similarly, because of that European way of somehow not drawing the same boundaries between “theatre” and “dance” or perhaps drawing them in less definitive, more mutable ways, I was exposed to purer forms of the stuff that Frantic Assembly and co had been drawing on for years. I remember how exciting it was to go to The Place for the first time afterwards and write about it as a “theatre critic”.

Baltoscandal, by contrast, felt kind of cosy and familiar. Cosy and familiar radical experiment, sure, but more like the kind of stuff you might find in Shunt or the BAC - if Shunt or the BAC were having their BEST WEEK EVER. Okay, that’s overstating the case slightly, but only very slightly. Due to a particularly heavy schedule – roughly fourteen hours a day – of planned things, and only then maybe a drink in the festival tent, one’s spirits did tend to wax and wane. There was still an amount of work that was “fine” or “perfectly nice”. Similarly, there were at least two pieces that completely divided opinion. However there were at least three pieces that were outstanding in different ways and several others that were fascinating to see.

Thanks to the festival’s brevity, despite our concurrent workshop programme (only four days), and the fact that we could get into performances we weren’t specifically booked into with our festival passes, it felt like we Mobile Lab types were seeing a very good chunk of what the festival had to offer, rather than being bolted on for what can feel like a random four days a some point in a much longer festival. Similarly, like Wiesbaden, the festival having a popular hub – again in a marquee outside the theatre – gave the event a sense of community that gave both festivals a brilliant extra dimension, where meeting the performers and the visiting programmers from other European festivals, as well as hanging out with the other critics, becomes perhaps the most invaluable part of one’s education at these festivals.

Over the next couple of days I hope to write up some of the shows I saw either in long form, proper review form, or in brief prĂ©cis. I’m also keen to try to construct a kind of overview of the festival. For the first time it felt like themes emerged from the work, along with a surprising number of shared motifs, and it would be interesting to discuss how these might suggest some sort of commonalty between apparently disparate bits of work.

1 comment:

Alison Croggon said...

Sounds very fascinating... and makes me wish I'd been in Estonia too. Ah well. As I feel very piquantly at the moment, it's a long way from here...

Your comment about the relationship between theatre and dance made me wonder about what you might make of the more interesting edges of theatre in Melbourne, where there are continuing collaborations between dance and theatre makers - the brilliant piece Tense Dave, for instance, which was a collaboration between theatre director Michael Kantor and two choreographers, Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek, and which won a Bessie in New York. And there's also some very interesting usages of technology. I've long noted that Australian theatre at its most vital is aligned much more strongly to Europe than it is to Britain or the US - it's very common for people to work between Europe and Australia and local boy Barrie Kosky (long typecast as the enfant terrible of Melbourne theatre, a role he's long outgrown) just got made AD of the Komische Oper in Berlin.

What's missing here is an equally vital and experimental literary culture. Imo, although we have some good writers, the weakest component of our theatre is the writing, which continues to run largely on the Anglo axis, and generally in very uninteresting ways. I suspect it's a peculiarly Australian dilemma. And might one day be a fruitful dilemma, if anyone takes it by the scruff of the neck and does something about it.

Anyway, it occurs to me I ought to be writing this on my own blog...