The Best of BE Festival at the Barbican
The Birmingham European (BE) Festival is a real oddity. Launched in 2010, it accepts 30-minute offerings from companies across Europe, shows a clutch of them each evening and invites audiences to share a meal with performers in the extended interval. The cream of 2013’s edition have been brought down to the Barbican for a short stint, bringing their energetic brand of clownery, dance and physical theatre with them.
This is a strong line-up of performers who put the physical at the heart of their work, which is a smart focus for a pan-European festival wanting to dodge linguistic barriers. But the lasting impression of this showcase is the atmosphere: there’s something joyful about breaking bread with strangers that warms the heart. With entertainment that gets you talking, and a gastronomic interval that makes you talk, the BE Festival appears to have a very bright future indeed.
Al Cubo by Betti Combo (France)
One pole. 18 buckets. Three clowns. Al Cubo means bucket or bucketful in Spanish, and the audience certainly get a pail full of bucket-based jokes and physical japery from this trio of pole-dancing Toulouse clowns. As with many character pieces, it takes a while for the performers’ nuances to bed with the audience, but once they do the laughs are thick, fast and consistent. Each performer really does bring something different to the silent group dynamic as the girl (Ilaria Senter), the moustache (Francesco Caspani) and the effete dandy (Fabrizio Rosselli) flourish, stack, pile and smash their seemingly endless supply of buckets in ever intriguing ways.
It’s like watching children in adult bodies. Wildly creative for a brief splurge, the clowns soon stand waiting for approval and direction. That is, until something distracts them, a shadow, a gesture, a flick of the hair, such trivialities repeatedly set this troupe of clowns off. As with all children, they have a joy in small things and no qualms in following a tangent to its conclusion.
There’s more than a little physical dexterity and slight of hand at work here – nothing for Cirque du Soleil to fear, but then this is a very different type of circus, artistic rather than athletic, but also humorous and pathetic in equal measure.
Tao Te by Ferenc Feher (Hungary)
Hailing from Hungary, Ferenc Feher is a self-taught dancer and choreographer with a penchant for martial arts and freestyle dance. In Tao Te, two picnicking friends (Feher and Balázs Szitás) squabble over food and launch into a 25-minute dance fight, before neatly resolving their differences and breaking bread at the end.
Unfortunately, Tao Te is both undercooked and underprepared. Feher doesn’t so much throw up unusual shapes or beautiful lines as deliver unrefined dance moves with something of YouTube’s Star Wars Kid about them. The idea behind the choreography could be interesting, but the execution is poor, demonstrating an overall lack of uniformity, elegance and coordination with the music.
Next Door by Out of Balanz (Denmark)
Ivan (Hansen) from Denmark and Pekka (his neighbour) from Finland give the audience a thumbs-up. “I think we’re OK to start,” says Ivan with childish glee. Indeed, throughout this little gem of a play, Ivan continually chatters to the audience. There is no fourth wall, there’s barely any plot, just a meandering set of endearingly told and superbly acted anecdotes about his and Pekka’s childhood.
For all the litany of inventive props used by the company it’s their physical expression and inventiveness that really shine through. They’re playing 10-year-olds and, apart from the obvious physical cues suggesting otherwise, they’re utterly convincing as such: reckless, buffoonish and with boundless energy.
It is a shame that the story of Next Door – ostensibly an investigation into how Ivan’s neighbour died – gets completely lost. But in its place is a score of slick and well-rehearsed scenes detailing Ivan’s relationships with childhood friends: fishing trips, descriptions of his flat’s layout, bike races and the furious chewing of gum might not hang together as a plot development sequence, but they’re riveting to watch and superbly energetic. And if none of the above appeals, then the cast ply the audience with booze at the end.
There’s something for everyone in this showcase but few will probably enjoy everything. This is the great pleasure of festivals: taking a punt on something. If it doesn’t work all that’s been lost is a measly half hour. At the BE Festival, what’s gained is conversation ammunition for the impending meal – and based on noise levels last night, there was no shortage of that.
The Best of BE Festival is on at the Barbican until 12th October 2013, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for The Best of BE Festival here: