Transforming the backstage area of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre into a lively festival hub and the main stage into a communal dining hall, BE Festival feels like an invaluable fixture in Birmingham’s arts calendar. Its international and interdisciplinary approach results in an eclectic programme of short pieces which straddle dance, theatre, circus and performance art.
In Take Care of Yourself (★★★), Swiss parkour practitioner Marc Oosterhoff puts his body on the line in a series of high-wire stunts. Cigarette in mouth, several shots down, he drunkenly stumbles through a minefield of mousetraps. As he leans back in his chair over a line of menacingly large knives, it makes for almost-unbearable watching. With its curtailed running time, it ends up feeling slight, but what it lacks in profundity it makes up for in the pure exhilaration of risk.
Equally high-stakes is Ivo Dimchev’s P-Project (★★★★★).The principle actor here is not the artist so much as the box containing £1000 in cash which they entrust to an audience member. The set-up of this full-length piece, co-presented with Fierce Festival, is that Dimchev has received a 25,000 euro grant to make a show, and needs to find a way to spend it. The physically present cash electrifies the room, and makes the experience hot, live, dangerous.
Under the pretext of wanting to avoid exploiting the audience’s labour, Dimchev pays people for volunteering to do tasks onstage. Moving through poetry-writing to tap-dancing to kissing, we eventually find ourselves watching two volunteers strip naked and pretend to fuck for five minutes, for a reward of £250 each. Dimchev’s skill is to bring to bear the ethical greyness of the show’s content without letting it tip over into pure ugliness, and their deadpan commitment to the mock-seriousness of it all is disarmingly funny. The fucking provokes raucous laughter, then awkwardness, and finally a kind of unexpected beauty.
The show isn’t as blunt as its driving concept might suggest, and for a piece that purports to give its audience ‘complete dramaturgical freedom,’ it’s cunningly crafted, coming alive in its own frictions and contradictions.
Quieter, but making a deep impression, Aqui, Siempre (★★★★) is a dance work with four women aged 16-66. It uses choreography as a tool for autobiographical portraiture, drawing on each dancer’s life experience. An exquisitely still solo by Mona Belizan, a 66-year-old ballerina, seems to encapsulate a lifetime’s worth of emotion. It makes visible her rigorous training, but allows her to exist in the gap between her body’s everyday lived-in-ness and the discipline of a dancer. Music plays through a gramophone, its melody layered with the gentle crackle of interference.