Produced by In Between Time in collaboration with Arnolfini, Bristol
14 - 17 February 2013
Review by Maddy Costa
For a festival lasting only four days, In Between Time was overwhelmingly rich in thought and theme. Like a constellation of stars that can be mapped into suggestive shapes, the programme invited audiences to draw connections and patterns from one work to the next. It did that explicitly, with stated inspirations: the moon was key; so was the idea of live art in the public realm, wherein the specific venue could be a bedroom or a clearing in the woods. And it did that subtly: curated by a group of thrillingly smart women, IBT13 presented work after work that interrogated female existence, identity and representation, but never drew attention to this at all.
With this undercurrent of feminist energy crackling through the programme, individual performances had to demonstrate equal precision of concept and execution or risk their inadequacies being brutally exposed. Such was the fate of the Famous Lauren Barri Holstein’s ‘How To Become a Cupcake’: by Holstein’s own admission the piece was under-rehearsed, but then her stage demeanour throughout was so desultory that you couldn’t be sure this wasn’t deliberate. She spent most of the hour satirising the pornography of popular culture, in one scene stuffing half-chewed marshmallows into her bikini top while flatly intoning sex talk (‘my vulva is pink like the sweetest cotton candy’), in another dancing naked while her minions squirted her with cream. Meanwhile, in a corner of the stage, Lucy McCormick of Get In the Back of the Van live-tweeted the kind of comments this performance would attract if screened online: ‘omg this bitch is awesome’; ‘Lauren has twister in her pussy now soooooooooo hot’.
It was in that last scene - lying on the floor, legs in the air, Twister lolly protruding from her vagina, melting in the heat of a hairdryer - that Holstein betrayed her political immaturity. Her pubic hair had been entirely removed; far from rejecting porn’s figuring of the female, Holstein represents it. In ‘Kein Applaus fur Scheisse’, Victor Riebeek and Florentina Holzinger employed many of the same tropes as Holstein, differing only in the details: Rihanna to Holstein’s Britney Spears; urine into Holzinger’s mouth rather than a mountain of sherbet. But there was a dramaturgical shape to this piece that allowed Holzinger and Riebeek at least to broach more complex ideas about female experience. In their rehearsal of emotional power struggles, they switched sides often, a sharing consummated when Holzinger, rather than swallow Riebeek’s piss, dribbled it into his mouth so he could. Holzinger’s autonomy was confirmed when she sat on a chair, legs in the air, bright red string protruding from her vagina (which Riebeek earnestly chewed like bubblegum), and revealed that her pubic hair was intact.
Perhaps the brash post-feminism of these two works felt callow because they followed a work of dazzling maturity: Reckless Sleepers’ ‘A String Section’, performed as part of the festival’s opening celebrations. Reduced to a single line, it sounds not only slight but preposterous: four women dressed like musicians in a string quartet sit on kitchen chairs which they gradually destroy using saws. Yet in that apparently pointless action the performers conjured up the two most tenacious images of womanhood - the domestic goddess and pornography’s whores - and exposed not only their absurdity but the ease with which women use them as weapons against each other.
There was something almost pornographic about the way the women’s bodies wrapped around the chairs, forcing metal into wood - but this was a pornography in which the women are not meat but living animals with a powerful, accusatory gaze. We watched them sweat with effort, thighs quivering as muscles engaged, and saw bodies reclaimed and in control. I saw, too, the birth of my two children: such was the natural force to which they lay claim.
A similar effect was conveyed by Nic Green’s ‘Fatherland’, another startlingly simple piece that astonished with its emotional impact. Green began with a conversation with her father, a man she met just once, his words spoken here by all the fathers in the room. Is it his genes that give her a moustache and make her Scottish’ Or is her identity more rooted in the land, in ‘something beyond me’’ The answer emerged in a highland dance, performed slowly at first, to the beat of one drum, joined by another and another, then finally a piper, Green’s own movement building in momentum, in tension, in celebration of birth and life and the interconnectedness of human existence, until she seemed to be channelling the very energy of the earth through the fibres of her body. Dancing naked, encircled by male musicians, she rejects small-mindedness not with irony or pastiche, but generosity, patience, an embrace of a consciousness wider than her own.
And because In Between Time was so painstakingly curated, Green’s breath-taking performance seemed to echo the song of the earth conjured up the previous evening in ‘Night Tripper’. Audiences for this piece were transported by coach to the woodland outside Bristol, then led to a circle of trees, along whose circumference we huddled beneath blankets, clutching cups of vodka. At the centre of the circle stood two women who moved in quiet rhythm round and round. As they revolved we could hear birdsong, the rougher cry of seagulls, the roar of an aeroplane. And then another sound: the breath of a bow against a violin, an exhalation from an accordion, a clatter of metal percussion. Still the women revolved, bending now at the knees, letting their arms begin to swing. The music found a melody and rose through it to a crescendo; the women became more animate in response, and the whole created such tension it seemed the very trees might rise on their roots and begin to walk. Instead, something else, no less magical happened: the band began to sing and distant female voices answered them with a chiming song of growing grass and impending spring. Above us, the moon beamed through the tiny aperture between the trees’ branches, summoned by Night Tripper’s pagan ritual and the women of In Between Time, an ancient goddess looking down beneficently, communing with us all.