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Brighton Festival 2010

Bodies in Urban Spaces

Willi Dorner

Venue: New England Quarter, Brighton


Low Down

Willi Dorner, the Austrian choreographer re-animates Brighton’s less salubrious New England Quarter with colourful figures.


Bodies in Urban Spaces is a very simple concept which is executed wonderfully well. It is a site-specific re-animation of the city’s concrete landscape using the flexible bodies of a troupe of dancers. No set or preparation is necessary – the only equipment is the performers themselves.

Led through the underpass and stairwells around the New England area the audience gaped at the marvellous jigsaws the colourfully dressed people managed to make by squeezing up to eight people into a doorway – positioned at various impossible angles – supporting each other using clever counter-weighting and balance.
This is such a fun piece of work, and can be described as ‘street’ theatre in its truest sense, as various items of street furniture are the tools the company use to create their images. The passing hoards of festival goers gaped to see a body upside down, squeezed between the wall and a loading bay sign or two figures pushed head first into a cage protecting a tree. At one stage a row of brightly coloured bottoms hung from ledges above front doors, turning a particularly soulless development into a bright and interesting performance space.
The troupe of around 15 people were constantly running ahead of their audience to form new sculptures, and occasionally those at the front were treated to seeing them implemented – a feat of artistry as each complex installation was put together in just a few seconds. The ability of the artists to cram their bodies into the most unlikely spaces was extraordinary, and some must have been yoga masters to fold their bodies in such incredible ways. However, at many points during the walk I found myself feeling sorry for the people whose heads were at the bottom of a pile – crammed into a urine soaked corner of a car park or even shoved right into an old fireplace, halfway up the wall of a demolished house.
The event was meant to be ticketed, but as it was free and tickets weren’t checked, many people without tickets turned up anyway or joined the party, and the mass of people being shepherded along the route was certainly larger than the festival anticipated. This posed some problems with the stewarding, as the line of people filing past the sculptures was very drawn out, and meant that some images had dissolved before the last people got to see them. It was certainly a challenge for the 500 odd people to negotiate the traffic filled North Laine, and the often rude shouts of the stewards to get on the pavement and stop taking photos slightly soured the experience. I am not sure how this problem could be remedied, other than doing the walk early in the morning or late at night, but it is the obstacle preventing this from being a 5 star show.


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