Yesterday evening, thanks to tips from Michael (who posted photos from Thursday promptly) and Anna (who mentioned it on Twitter), I trundled across to the east of the city for two very different performances as part of the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival.
Up by the new planetarium at the Royal Observatory, there was Sputnik, a short, intimate, somewhat charming solo dance/performance piece, with Claire Cunningham as a slightly steampunk character exploring a strange machine. As I’ve said, it wasn’t a long performance (maybe 20 minutes long), and it was on a very human scale; the entire machine was only a few metres across. Definitely well worth the climb up the hill, even without the glorious view of sunset behind the City I was able to catch afterwards.
Following that, I headed back under the Thames to Millwall Dock for Fous de Bassin, one of those spectaculars that French theatre companies seem so good at. This was on a much different scale to Sputnik; it lasted for 45 minutes and had a (visible) cast of about a dozen, including heaven knows how many technicians. Staged on water, with a variety of boats and, well, vehicles, lit with electricity, fire, and finally fireworks, this really was a massive event, yet I didn’t enjoy it as much.
Some of that is niggles due to the scale; there were a thousand people squeezed in to the dock to watch, mainly from concrete-hard lawns, and I was initially distracted by people describing what they were seeing to their friends. It was also hard to see what was going on.
Yet there’s also a structural problem; it felt like there was an attempt at narrative, or perhaps, more problematically, three or four narratives. What did the chap getting out of the car have to do with the woman up the tree? What did the jousting signify? Was there meant to be something joining these threads, or were we just meant to be gawping? Well, probably just being dazzled, yet it still left me feeling as if I’d missed the point somehow.
Compared to that, Sputnik managed (because, perhaps, of its smallness of scale) to effectively convey a (small) narrative very nicely indeed, with none of the bombast. Still, since both performances were free, and I got something out of both, I really shouldn’t complain too much. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend either, not because I don’t want to, but because both concluded yesterday. However, Handel’s Water Music is being performed for a final time tonight at the National Maritime Museum, and there are a series of small dance and performance events in the are throughout today and tomorrow. In fact, I need to pack up and head off for some now.