If Only…! The Bluecoat's experimental live art cabaret makes a welcome return after a year away. Whatever it's been up to in that year I am not sure, making trouble for itself as the On Parole subtitle suggests.
As often happens at these events the whole thing already seems to be leaking out from the Bluecoat's performance space, what looks like a strippers pole has been set up in the landing. Also what are those guys in helmets and Hi Viz jackets doing making their way through the gathering crowd and disappearing into the performance space?
Entering the performance space members of the audience are approached by 'officials' ,all lanyards and clipboards, who subject them to baffling searches, ensuring that mobile phones are collected into plastic bags, for our own protect of course. The two security guards seen earlier are flanking a tent laid out on stage.
Already I have the sense of an event on the defensive, but from whom? It begins with the two officials ensuring the correct space has been allocated while a figure dressed in prison fatigues sets out what will happen. Marking out where things will happen and the correct contextual statement for each piece. This echoes the pragmatic way artists are expected to lay out their intentions in order for their worth to be judged. Of course events like If Only…!, which focus on experimentation and incomplete work can be seen as a luxury in the face of cuts.
Anyway on with the show, one of the officials enters the tent accompanied by glacial winds and a musical duo. The people in the tent begin to play with newspaper, rustling, crushing, ripping it and throwing it around the tent giving it the impression of a self-creating snow globe. Above them a screen splutters into life and gives a view from within the tent, where paper landscapes appear and tumble and spin weightlessly through space given us access to a wold of impossible movements. It's what I would guess the point of view of a dancer to be, there is a giddy sense of movement throughout the piece.
Once the piece is other, the officials simply leave the tent and kick it out of the way. This continues the theme and also neatly conceals the necessary scene change.
Next the security guards take to the stage and begin to perform acoustic versions of popular songs. Is this an attempt to remind us that behind the plastic visors of authority are human beings? I don't know, throughout the performance I expect something violent to happen… it doesn't.
One of the officials gives us a breakdown of the next performance, or rather what seems to be a collection of key phrases which seem to have little to what actually happens next.
As what happens next is magic! The man in prison fatigues returns as magician adorned in a high Fez and has a be-sequined assistant (as is tradition). The assistant is laid across a plain wooden table the magician whips out a saw and begins to saw away at the legs of the table. The audience gasps and coo's and the assistant finds herself in an increasingly precarious position. I can't help but think about the relationship this relationship between magician and assistant where no matter how lethal the actions of the magician appears the assistant much take the risks with quite grace. Almost like every human relationship… though I maybe overthinking it.
As the magician struggles with a particularly though selection of the table, an official address the audience to gather feedback. After gathering the data she decides to configure the data to her own ends and pass the magic act.
The magician swaps place with the duo Graculus who deal with the echo of wood being thrown away as they begin; the main thing I take away from Graculus is simply that improvised music can be unexpectedly beautiful.
Its interval time, crowded bar, confused shuffling. Eventually from outside the performance space there comes a sleazy guitar riff and from the stairwell comes Mickey Mouse who proceeds to pole dance, grinding and spinning around in that way that is physically yet not sexual. It's strange this piece as a begin to wonder if Mickey Mouse is a spent symbol, his ironic cache used up and therefore his appearance as pole dancer, for this viewer at least isn't surprising. Also it's not as funny or sinister as being in a lap dancing club where my one and only visit to such an establishment involved the use of the phrase 'Do you want these in your face'.
My dodgy past aside, where back into the performance space for the trio Eyes consisting of guitar, drums and poet. They make a likeable post-something noise while the poet barks his poetry into the riffs. Eventually the poet ends up taking the traditional frontman role screaming at the audience and rolling around the floor. All good clean fun.
Before the final act the officials go through the information gathered so far ensuring that not only we have the correct performance but we have the correct audience.
On to the closing act of the night, a tango performance, this is almost upstaged by some comedy bickering from Graculus. That aside this is the act that is received warmly by the audience it also serves as a reminder that the platforms like If Only…! are really open to a range of artforms and practitioners.
Before will leave we are given a brief PowerPoint presentation which takes us through the people involved in producing tonight's event. Throughout the night I have had the sense of artists on the defensive, of people expected to justify ideas which sometimes cannot be justified beyond their own existence. Which, to repeat myself, could become more difficult in these times of crisis. That aside what If Only…! provides is an platform for a number of performers from different disciplines to experiment, to strengthen themselves to ensure that we have an on-going creative exchange.
The next If Only...! will take place... http://www.thebluecoat.org.uk/events/view/events/1190