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Being Fierce at the End of the World. By Aaron Wright, Artistic Director, Fierce Festival

[Aaron Wright, Artistic Director, Fierce Festival]

 

In one of my many recent sleepless nights in the run up to our biennale festival of international performance, Fierce, I realised (staring at the ceiling) that I’d programmed a festival for the end of the world.

Looking back through history we are used to hearing that times of political turmoil have often created the conditions for brilliant, vital art to be made. However, with the ever increasing likelihood of the extinction of the human race, what can performance really do? This year’s Fierce Festival programme is both love letter and eulogy to a world that seems to be vanishing before our very eyes. It’s actually helped me make peace with that possibility as well as understand exactly how we’ve ended up here.


[Photo credit: Carrion - Justin Shoulder. Image by Atong Atem]

The festival starts with a remarkable visual spectacle from Sydney based club kid and visionary artist Justin Shoulder, in his major debut European performances. Carrion questions what it means to be human in an era when our destructive influence over the planet is rapidly redefining the laws of nature. In his review of the show Luke Macaronas nails it when he says “encountering Justin Shoulder’s Carrion with limbs made of decaying bones and hair made of Apple headphones—is deeply arresting. Simultaneously primitive, and yet highly evolved, they seem to straddle the arc of human evolution.” The performance seems to neatly sum up just how we got here whilst also predicting exactly where we’re heading. It is chilling and incredibly beautiful.


[Photo credit: In Many Hands - Kate McIntos]

Another standout piece is Kate McIntosh’s acclaimed In Many Hands finally seen on UK shores for the first time. In this participatory experience 45 people join in a shared experience that sees them handling a wide range of objects, from fossils to plants. The whole world in 90 minutes: in our hands. As we collectively care for and appreciate these tiny items of wonder I am reminded of American theatre company 600 HIGHWAYMEN’s idea of theatre as a ‘rehearsal of empathy’. It is a stark reminder of what we are all set to lose and the huge collective work that lies ahead of us all if we’re to change track.


[Make Banana Cry - Andrew Tay and Stephen Thompson. Image by Claudia Chan Tak]


[Photo credit: Private: Wear a mask when you talk to me - Alexandra Bachzetsis. Image by Blommers & Schumm]


As ever Fierce also centres bodies in all their disparate and eccentric glory, and what it means to have a body living under the prevalent power structures. Critiques of capitalism, patriarchy and western colonial structures are abound in embodied performances Make Banana Cry by Andrew Tay and Stephen Thompson, Private: Wear a mask when you talk to me by Alexandra Bachzetsis and My Last American Dollar by Keijaun Thomas. They expose how these systems infiltrate and controls our bodies all of the fucking time and got us into this mess in the first place, but also how we can resist and live defiantly in the face of all this too.


[Photo credit: My Last American Dollar - Keijaun Thomas]

I often think of Fierce as a little utopia that pops up in Birmingham for one special week every two years. Whilst in the darkness of a Fierce performance we might be able to shut out the real world for a few fleeting moments, these moments always occur in spite of but never in denial of the world around us. This is 2019 and this is where we’re at. These communal encounters make things slightly more bearable and in these moments lie glimmers of hope even at what might feel like the festival at the end of the world.


[Photo credit: iFeel2 - MELK PROD. / Marco Berrettini]

In Swiss choreographer’s Marco Berrettini’s performance iFeel2 two topless figures move around a blue plant-filled paradise. The performance is an exploration of the question that has bothered humanity from day dot: just why are we here, on this spinning rock? Whilst it doesn’t give us answers, and whilst we may now never get them, I actually suspect this could be what the end of the world looks like: two people dancing into infinity. It’s the perfect closing performance for Fierce Festival 2019: a festival for the End of the World. I hope I’m proved wrong.

Fierce Festival runs 15 – 20 October in venues across Birmingham City Centre and the surrounding region.

www.wearefierce.org