GOlive Winchester 2015: Friday, July 24
By Donald Hutera
For decades I was a free-lance arts journalist writing primarily about dance, theatre and live performance for The Times and many other publications and websites. I still follow this career path pretty, I must admit, assiduously. But a couple of years ago the road I’ve been travelling in the arts widened considerably.
In May 2013 George Sallis, the producer of Giant Olive Theatre, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Would I, he asked, ever want to curate a dance festival? As I subsequently learnt, one small ‘Yes’ can help shift the direction of your entire professional life. Answering George in the affirmative put a fresh and active spin on all my years of theatre-going and talent-spotting wordsmithery. The result was GOlive, a series of highly eclectic, sometimes challenging yet always engaging evenings that place a spotlight on mainly live and movement-based performances.
GOlive launched in September 2013 at London’s Lion and Unicorn pub theatre, Kentish Town as a marathon of 24 shows in 21 days featuring nearly 100 artists. It’s since been repeated there three times in an increasingly more laboratorial but no less diverse fashion, with works-in-progress shown alongside more finished pieces. Exactly a year later GOlive made its first foray outside of the Big Smoke, playing at the University of Winchester to a small but appreciative invited audience. Having successfully tested the touring waters, we subsequently presented in mid-July 2015 four nights of carefully and deliciously mixed bills at the compact but hugely inviting Burton Taylor Studio run by the Oxford Playhouse.
Now, less than a week later (and on the heels of Just Dance, a Giant Olive production staged at Theatre Royal Winchester) comes a one-off gig at Chesil Theatre. Home of the Winchester Dramatic Society, formed over 150 years ago, this intimate, studio-style 75-seat space is superbly right for GOlive. Here’s why, plus a bit about what adventurous audience members can expect on July 24.
The works I present tend to be short and, invariably, extremely varied in terms of style and content. It’s really a case of an unpredictable but consistently tasty assortment of strong performance flavours slipping onto your tongue one after the other. That’s certainly true of the six gifted artists I’ve invited to be part of GOlive Winchester. Their age range spans close to half a century, all but one is female and the themes each is exploring – as well as the tone in which they do so – cover a lot of creative ground.
First out of the gate is Shane Shambhu. Trained in the classical Indian dance form bharata natyam, Shane is also an experienced actor who has worked with the celebrated company Complicite on their hit show A Disappearing Number. Shane’s solo, which premiered at GOlive London and subsequently toured to Oxford, is a playful, thoughtful and revealing autobiographical lecture-demonstration called ‘My Inside Playground.’ It’s about his relationship to the culture of Indian dance and the traditions with which he grew up as a British-Asian.
Debbie Lee-Anthony’s ‘Threshold’ is a contemplative solo reflecting on life at a transitional stage. ‘Gently simmering on the back burner, time passes and new beginnings beckon’ is how Debbie sums it up. This moving, honest and resonant solo also premiered at GOlive London.
Hanna Wroblewski’s compelling, visceral ‘My Heart became this Monster’ uses flesh (and fabric) to uncover what remains beyond words. It’s a thoroughly thought-out but ambiguous dance, difficult for Hanna to perform and potentially hard to watch mainly because she makes herself so physically and emotionally vulnerable in order to do it.
After an interval comes Mara Vivas’ Trace,’ an elegant, richly detailed examination of memory and its impact on perception. In it a woman navigates familiar territory, sometimes recalling long-buried experiences… Onstage Mara exudes a fierce, concentrated beauty that renders her solo a small but choice gem amongst the rest of the programme’s jewels.
The Eastleigh-based dance and performance artist Hayley Barker is a kind of performance miniaturist who uses whatever it takes to put across her ideas. Driven to find new forms of movement via what she calls ‘biographical caricatures,’ Hayley likes to mix reality and fiction. ‘The nothing space’ is a test bed for her latest experiments, and will apparently more abstract for her than usual. I say ‘apparently’ because Hayley’s solo is the bill’s one wild card, meaning that I won’t have seen it myself until on the day it’s shown at Chesil. That’s one of the things I’m willing to do as curator of GOlive. That is, I trust the people whose work I believe in to deliver the goods. This certainly includes Hayley, whose performance the public and I will be discovering together.
Last but by no means least is the visual arts critic turned feisty, fearlessly frank and funny soloist Sarah Kent (aka Degenerate 15). Sarah will be laying herself on the line in a daring and possibly defiant piece of improvised action-theatre entitled ‘Past Muster.’ Bittersweet rather than sugar-coated, this lithe lady is irresistibly moreish.
There you have it. It is, to my way of thinking, a wonderful roster of unique performers. In the bigger picture I’m something between tickled and thrilled to be bringing GOlive to Winchester, especially to a venue that’s both new to us and has such a venerable history as a place of religion and theatre – each, in its way, a ritual practice that can be good for both the soul and the brain.
GOlive Winchester 2015
When: Friday, July 24 at 7.45pm.
Where: Chesil Theatre, Chesil Street, Winchester SO23 0HU.
Telephone booking: 0333 6600 3366 (booking fee applies to online and telephone sales)
Ticket enquiries only: 07527 471 539.
24-hour info line: 01962 867086.
Doors opens 30 minutes prior to performance.
www.chesiltheatre.org.uk / www.giantolive.com
Donald Hutera writes about the arts for The Times, People Dancing, londondance.com and more. He conducts annual workshops on dance criticism for English National Ballet, broadcasts his views on theatre and dance for Monocle radio and has served as a director and/or dramaturg and press adviser for GOlive and other artists. Additionally he edits The Winchester Guide.
Winchester Guide editor Donald Hutera spends a few happy hours on the hoof in an exceptionally attractive city centre.
Walking about a city is akin to putting together a puzzle. The pleasure is seeing how the pieces fit together and into what kind of bigger picture they assemble themselves.
I didn’t plan to wander in whistle-stop fashion round the centre of Winchester on a late Tuesday afternoon in early October. In truth, I had no fixed plans at all other than to finish my three-hour teaching gig at Winchester University (topic: critical writing, especially as it pertains to dance) and then meet this website’s co-founder, George Sallis, to discuss the future of our burgeoning dance and performance festival, GOlive. My session with a dozen or so bright second-years on the Uni’s dance course went well. How do I know? No one fell asleep, including me. Joking aside, the students were alert and attentive during what seemed to be a fun and, I trust, informative dialogue or exchange of thoughts, feelings and opinions about art-making and art-watching.
Afterwards I was unexpectedly free to go where I would at least for a few hours. Why? Because something had come up that meant George would be unavailable for a few hours. Did I mind? Not at all. Having visited Hat Fair in July I already knew how attractive Winchester is as a place to amble about in.
This, then, was the route I took on that particular day…
First, directly across from the entrance to the University, are spread the seven or so sloping acres of West Hill Cemetery. It’s a place worth exploring further, especially for an aficionado of final resting places like me. Then uphill to Peninsula Square, the location of former military barracks that have been converted into private flats surrounding an ample courtyard complete with fountains and greenery. Very picturesque it is, too.
Little did I know that just behind the Barracks is the Great Hall (accessed via a pretty little sliver of a back door garden) wherein the Round Table resides, and next to it the Law Courts. Fronting the latter is a large plaza cobbled in a circular pattern, which – can’t help this, given my career as a professional arts journalist turned curator – put me in mind of possibilities for outdoor performance. (The cobbled area and a neighbouring plaza were, in fact, utilised during Hat Fair.)
I took a moment to admire the local landmark that is the Butter Cross before popping into both the Discovery Centre (a library, exhibition and performance space all in one) and, just across the road, the chocolate box-like Theatre Royal. I veered back to the High Street. Down at the bottom of it, on the stretch of road known as Broadway, sits the Victorian-era Guildhall. I stuck my head into two of its adaptable halls, the King Charles and the Bapsy, both of which are available for hire. Not far away above the River Itchen is the City Mill, a working urban mill powered by the fast-flowing water and operated by the National Trust. They were just about to lock up, rendering this another place to which I’d willingly surrender an adequate amount of time.
The Chesil Theatre, just round the corner on Chesil Street, was shut. I rang the stage door bell but, alas, no answer. No matter. This meant I could backtrack a bit and mosey along The Weirs, a relaxing and even romantic riverside walkway through gardened grounds complete with benches for sitting or, in my observation, something more intimate judging by the passionate, lip-locked embrace of one unabashed young couple.
Turning onto College Street I spotted the entrance to Wolvesey Castle, the extensive ruins of which are overseen by English Heritage. Although it was already past the supposed closing time of 5pm I’m glad to say I was able to meander there for a good ten minutes or so. Situated next to Winchester Cathedral, the Old Bishop’s Palace (to use Wolvesey’s other, informal moniker) has been an important residence of the Bishops of Winchester since Anglo-Saxon times. The ruins date largely from the 12th-century and are mainly thanks to Bishop Henry of Blois. The English Heritage website states that ‘the last great occasion here was on 25 July 1554, when Queen Mary and Philip of Spain held their wedding breakfast in the East Hall.’ What history this piece of land and these stones must contain! I wasn’t there long but Wolvesey immediately shot into a prime position as a favorite and resonant place in Winchester, and one more to which I want to return.
Further along College Street is Winchester College itself. According to Wikipedia, this boys’ school (ages 13-18) has existed in its present location for over 600 years and claims the longest unbroken history of any school in England. It can be toured, too, although not at 5.30pm. And so I strolled past Jane Austen’s house (where she spent her last days and died, but it’s a private residence and thus not open to the public) and on to the Cathedral for a mere five transportingly melodious minutes of the service known as Evensong. The sound of the choir singing far up at this resplendent building’s imposing centre was like a balm, but I had a dinner date at the Hotel du Vin on Southgate Street.
This handsome building dates back to 1715. Next time I ought to take a look at a few of the rooms, but I was there principally to wine and dine with George from a three-course set menu costing £19.95 per person. It was a case of decent food at a good price accompanied by smart service and in elegant surroundings. It’s worth drifting out into the back garden, an area lit by strands of white lights and anchored by a small fountain with fish swimming in its gently splashing waters. They can’t have been much more content than me with my full belly and a head full of Winchester’s eminently accessible wonders.
By Donald Hutera
The name GOlive is derived from the place of origin of the first festival: the Giant Olive Theatre in London, located in the heart of Kentish Town at the Lion and Unicorn. GOlive was launched there a year ago this month as a 21-day marathon showcasing the work of 57 individuals or companies (or, tabulated another way, 98 artists altogether). The festival then returned this past spring in a more selective ‘headliners plus special guests’ format. Now it’s back in yet another guise as GOlive/GOlab. The emphasis during this current laboratorial version is on works-in-progress, which means the presence of anyone in the room can potentially influence a show’s future development. [For the record, the remaining London performance dates are September 13, 14, 15, 19, 20 and 21 at 7.30pm. Admission is by donation (£5 suggested) but all are welcome. Full details available at www.giantolive.com or via Twitter: @GiantOlive and Facebook]
Enough about London! What’s up with GOlive in Winchester? Thanks to a nascent association with the good people at Winchester University, the festival is happily going ‘on the road’ for one night only. The plan is to present five ‘acts’ in two different black box theatre spaces on campus starting at 7pm on September 16. The evening is part of a roster of activities for new students, but anyone who’s interested will be warmly welcome – and, from my perspective, positively encouraged – to attend. I’m both tickled and thrilled that GOlive is, in effect, now on tour (and this without benefit of government or any other form of subsidy aside from the in-kind generosity of the University’s Faculty of Arts).
I’ll close with a thumbnail description of each of the works on offer that evening, and the gifted people who created them. Enjoy reading and, ideally, venturing out to the University campus to actually see the entire show. It’s likely to be a most scintillating night…
Independent movement artist Hayley Barker (also an associate artist at The Point, Eastleigh) creates structured improvisations built imaginatively from real and fictional people/stories. In the work-in-progress ‘Venus’ (working title) she considers the history of human exhibitions, voyeurism and contemporary pop culture’s obsession with the body. (10 mins approx.)
The designer/performer Mamoru Iriguchi likes using lo-fi, DIY technology to blur actual and virtual realities, usually with an inventively droll sense of humour. For this edition of GOlive he’ll be testing out nascent ideas, asking what’s live and what (if anything) is eternally fixed… (20 mins)
The highly-regarded ex-Time Out visual arts critic turned fearlessly frank and funny soloist Sarah Kent (aka Degenerate 15) lays herself on the line in a defiant piece of action-theatre called ‘No Holds Barred.’ (15-20 mins max)
A dancer and choreographer who trained at The Place, Debbie Lee-Anthony is a senior lecturer at the University of Winchester. Her current focus is solo autobiographical performance. Taking notions of niceness as a theme, ‘A nice little project’ is a series of intimate danced and spoken vignettes designed to engage, provoke and entertain. (20 mins)
Multi-talented Nuno Silva (singer, dancer, actor and the fulcrum of Nu Music and Dance) and multi-instrumentalist/composer Sabio Janiak develop further a fusion of contemporary dance, fado (Portugal’s national song style) and electronic/live music first unveiled at GOlive 2013. (15-20 mins) Twitter: @nnunoev
by Donald Hutera