Unfringed review: Chimaera

I saw the show, Chimaera, on October 21 as part of the Unfringed Festival.

Chimaera is “an advanced interactive dance/music performance environment” created by composer, Enda Grennan and dance artist, Angie Smalis. It incorporated dance, music and visuals in a complex combination made possible by the Microsoft Kinect sensor for game consoles.

The Kinect is a little gadget that uses a motion sensor detector to transform gamers’ movements into a visual on-screen. In Chimaera, this system was adapted so that when the dancer makes a particular movement, a particular sound came out of the speakers and a particular visual was projected onto the white cubes of the set.

The software design was very impressive; not only was it set up to make sounds when she moved a certain way but she could also control what speaker the sound came out of. The visuals by Patrick Cusack were intricate wave and web-like creations in monochrome and colour with varying speeds etc.

Angie Smalis has vast experience in dancing and choreography. Her sustained performance for roughly an hour obviously packed with skill and stamina. All in white, she moved ghost-like—using every space in the set. Grennan, similarly, is a lecturer in Electroacoustic Composition and Interactive Music Programming and his multi-channel tape works have been performed nationally and internationally. These are people at the top of their respective fields and their collaboration is a unique duet.

Now to the bad news; I didn’t like it. First of all, there was no context and it is hard to evaluate something in a vacuum. I’m not sure if the title had a meaning. A chimaera was, in Greek mythology, “a monstrous fire-breathing female creature…composed of the parts of three animals: a lion, a serpent and a goat”. I got no impression of fire, fierceness or zoomorphism so maybe there was no reason for choosing that title bar the fact that Ms Smalis is from Greece? I spoke to the dancer afterward and she said she was not trying to communicate any specific idea to the audience. She had total freedom to improvise so every show was different.

When I was watching I just saw Smalis performing contemporary dance while various electronic sounds played and visuals were projected. There was no speech. It was a multi-sensory experience and I searched for patterns etc in the work but after a few minutes, I was bored. The ‘music’ was too industrial for me; there was no rhythm or rhyme to it. And with the dancer controlling the sounds, there was none. This might have been nervewracking for the composer but it was a loss to the audience too because his power in the piece was diminished somewhat.

The show left me a little cold. I felt I was a witness to artists doing their thing but not brought in or included in the experience. Of course, if you are interested in the art of dance or electroacoustic music or computers etc, you would get more out of it.

I find pure dance works—without an element of theatre or some other dilution—very esoteric. They seem to be produced and enjoyed by a select few. Although the technology is exciting and the participants are highly skilled, I didn’t think Chimaera was accessible enough to a regular audience member.

Unfringed Reviews: Bandit/The Wheelchair on my Face

Fishamble-The New Play Company is one of the most innovative collectives working in Ireland today and its ‘Show in a Bag’ initiative has spawned some excellent work since its foundation.

‘Show in a Bag’ is a collaboration with the Dublin Fringe Festival and the Irish Theatre Institute and gives actors the support and mentorship to come up with their own tourable productions. These plays debut in Bewley’s Café Theatre during the Dublin Fringe. Fortunately, our own Limerick Unfringed Festival was on just after that festival for the first time this year. Unfringed showed two 2012 ‘Show in a Bag’ plays and one from 2011.

I had the pleasure of seeing two of these…two out of three ain’t bad! Hopefully, I’ll see PAYBACK! at some later date.

Bandit

The first was Bandit—on in the Lunchtime Theatre at the Savoy slot on October 18—by Brian O’Riordan. The play followed a runner (O’Riordan himself) in the Dublin Marathon who is ‘a bandit’ and so is not officially registered in the race. He’s running away from his mistakes and grief; running toward an unlikely goal—all of which of is revealed as he navigates the grueling circuit.

He was literally running on the spot throughout and played three other characters at various points—a fellow female runner, his little sister and a rival from youth athletics. The use of subtle mannerisms and gestures was key for these segments. He packed a lot of information/story into 50 minutes and rather appropriately, the pace was perfect!

I really enjoyed it. There was a nice momentum to the play, probably down to the physical acting, which carries the audience along steadily but builds towards the end. The plot believability was a little stretched i.e. our hero lives a life of debauchery for years, goes back training for a few months and is miraculously superfit or the the fact that he stole a few grand with no consequences. The character is flawed but O’Riordan imbued him with some charm and wry humour that made you hopeful for him.

The minimalist format of ‘Show in a Bag’ meant that lighting, sound and a few props were used to maximum effect i.e. he would do a slight turn and the lighting would change when he was doing flashbacks and the beeps from his watch counted down the miles. Bandit reminded me a lot of Fight Night (yet another Show in a Bag focused on boxing) so it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel. That said, O’Riordan’s production and performance deserves praise, as does the mentorship and direction by Bryan Burroughs. I thought Bandit was affecting and energetic—enough to leave a pleasant adrenaline buzz.

The Wheelchair on my Face

This play was devised and performed by actress/comedienne, Sonya Kelly. It was also on in the Savoy, this time in the evening slot on October 26. The play—which won a Fringe First award at the acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe—is a stand-up comedy style memoir of the writer’s “myopic childhood”.

She knows how to make an entrance—setting the scene to music, fumbling and bumbling around the stage to demonstrate what it’s like when a person can’t see properly. Then she continued recounting hilarious incidents from her home and school life including how everyone thought she just an affectionate child when she clambered up on their laps and put her face close to theirs and how her bad eyesight affected friendships and activities. She invented an elaborate fantasy world where ABBA lived in her wardrobe and these funny interludes with Swedish accents and the band’s music break up the stories nicely.

When she had her eye test at age seven, it was obvious to all that she needed heavy duty spectacles. She describes the test, the optometrist and the other patients in a very touching anecdote. Her joy at being able to see properly is short lived when the catcalls of “speccy fishy!” start and her angelic First Holy Communion appearance is under threat from her supersized glasses. Some of the material is sad but of course, there is a happy ending.

Director, Gina Moxley, gave Kelly free reign to create her childhood world. The whole show was beautifully structured and told. There was some audience interaction where she got someone to throw a prop ‘tennis ball’; the use of props in general was excellent, from the giant eye-test charts to the ABBA’s Greatest Hits record cover. Kelly’s confessional streak and good humour was endearing. The audience lapped it up.

I may be short-sighted but even I could see why this show is award-winning. It’s funny and warm—a genuine feel-good experience. It is currently touring so catch it if you can.

Unfringed Festival 2012 starts tonight, Oct 16

The Limerick Unfringed Festival 2012 kicks off tonight (October 16) with a specially commissioned play, Siege.

The festival will run until October 28 and will include new and established theatre, music, dance, cinema and literary events. This year’s festival is curated by Duncan Molloy and the theme is ‘Darkness on the edge of town’.

The Unfringed used to take place in January but I think the new timeslot is a good move and spreading the festival events over 12 days will hopefully encourage audiences. There are a few ticket bundles available too, which might soften the financial outlay for some. The prices for events range from €7 to €22.50. The programme is a heady mix, with a lot of local input, so I would encourage people to support the festival by attending at least one event if they can at all. I’ll get to (and review if possible) a few things myself.

Siege is a local affair—written by Ciarda Tobin, directed by Marie Boylan and starring Aidan Crowe, Erica Murray and Joanne Ryan. The plot outline is as follows: “Pa is missing, Mouse is on the warpath and the houses are burning. This new short play, set in Limerick and inspired by the Trojan war, follows the exploits of Helena and her daughter as they discover Mouse’s secret and are forced to escape his fury. This is a highly charged urban play, which swings from karaoke to chaos and comedy to tragedy. It is rough and ready; it is savage and familiar. The production will be fast paced and physical.” The venue is the Belltable and it runs until Thursday.

Thursday lunchtime marks the first of three shows tying in with Lunchtime Theatre at the Savoy. Bandit—fresh from the Dublin Fringe—is on at 1pm on Thursday and Friday this week. On Friday (October 19) and Saturday nights, the multi award winning, Silent, by Pat Kinevane, is on at the Belltable. Act Without Words II by Samuel Beckett is on this Saturday and Sunday (two shows a night). The venue is site-specific but audiences meet at the Belltable.

Also on Sunday, Molloy’s own work—Mass—is on in the afternoon in the Limerick City Gallery of Art. Mass is on again on Sunday October 28. Interactive dance performance, Chimaera, by Angie Smalis is on Sunday and Monday night. On Tuesday October 23, there is a screening of the George Romero classic, Night of the Living Dead.

Mimic by Raymond Scannell is on Wednesday and Thursday night (October 25). Also on Thursday and Friday, Payback and The Wheelchair on my Face will feature at Lunchtime and Teatime Theatre at the Savoy respectively. On Thursday, The Loft will host Under the Influence where comedian/actor Pat Shortt and playwright, Mike Finn, will discuss their inspirations. Later that same evening, there will be a celebration of Richard Harris presented by Bottom Dog Theatre Company and The Little Apple.

On Friday night, French jazz musician, Tigran will perform and on Saturday, band Scullion will perform. Unique live game, Day Zero, is taking place, every 20 minutes from 1-4pm on Saturday. The idea is that the city has been overrun by zombies and you have to find a way to survive. The venue is site-specific but audiences meet at the Belltable. On Sunday, the festival will conclude with a production of David Mamet’s Oleanna.

Find out more about the Unfringed programme at www.belltable.ie or download it here.