Reviews Performance Published 27 November 2012

As the flames rose we danced to the sirens, the sirens

Barbican Pit ⋄ 13th November - 17th November 2012

Cinematic theatre.

Bojana Jankovic

Although the name of the performance might not suggest it, Sleepwalk Collective’s piece, As the flames rose we danced to the sirens, the sirens, is full of subtle but consistent self-irony. The company’s obsession with pop culture layers the performance from beginning to end and shapes everything in it. Most obviously Iara Solano Arana spends the majority of the time showing off a Marilyn Monroe-like blond wig, but more importantly, Sirens’ text is basically an endless flow of monologues worthy of any decent B-movie: melancholic, pathetic, passionate, and very serious. That’s not to say Sleepwalk Collective ignore the quality and depth of some of their inspiration – on the contrary: Sirens is a veritable experiment in how authentic, believable and respectable this style can become.

This interest in reshaping filmic content also serves the company well in finding a visual language for the piece. Balancing between gentle ridicule and simple deconstruction, Sirens is made out of references to genre specific film commonplaces: Arana reenacts a heroine tied to the train racks via means of a toy train set that ends up in her mouth, and later in quick succession demonstrates how easy it can be for a professional to fake what gets sold as emotion – all by drinking a glass of wine as a woman in love, as a man seducing someone or as a broken hearted lover, in the space of half a minute. The search for theatrical means of depicting moving images simultaneously reinforces the trash content in the B-industry but also, in a roundabout way, celebrates the capabilities of theatre, that at least on this occasion manages to reinvent what is at its basics a much more expensive and technically complex art form, out of almost nothing – bare stage, a performer, some soundscapes  and a dozen small props.

While imaginatively minimalistic, evocative and undoubtedly well thought out, Sirens faces the strange problem of knowing exactly what it is, but not where it’s going. In other words, the performance quickly establishes its vocabulary and creates a unique universe to inhabit – somewhere in the neighbourhood of a  scene from Mulholland Drive – but doesn’t really offer a reason for its strong identity, other than the company’s obvious interest in the mechanisms of pop culture. This is probably why at one point, the performance starts inevitably repeating the same patterns –   a problem that is then resolved artificially. The carefully constructed relationship between theatre and film is turned on its head, when a scene starts looping on a screen in front of which Arana de-masks from her Marilyn persona; although undoubtedly dramatic and full of tension this passage only marks the beginning of what will be a string of scenes that lead the performance to a full hour, but not really to the end.

Arana ends up announcing that she will try to cut her self in half to verify the validity of the famous magic trick – but at that stage there are only loose connections, to do with pretense and tackiness, to be made with where we started. The piece is therefore left being more of a formal experiment, than a statement, or an argument of any sort. As formal experiments go, it’s not nearly as cocooned as might be expected; as a performance, it lacks another twist of thought to serve as a backbone to what is an interesting formal approach to theatre.

Bojana Jankovic

Bojana Jankovic is one half of There There, a company composed of two eastern European theatre directors who turned from theatre to performance only to repeatedly question their decision. Before shifting to collaborative projects, she worked as a director and dramaturg on both classics and contemporary texts. She also wrote for Teatron, a Belgrade theatre magazine. She has a soft spot for most things pop, is surprisingly good at maths for a thespian, and will get back to learning German any day now.

As the flames rose we danced to the sirens, the sirens Show Info

Produced by Sleepwalk Collective

Directed by Sammy Metcalfe

Cast includes Iara Solano Arana

Original Music Esme Squalor


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