“A little illumination always brings more light.” So says the puppet-sized music hall ham who's just tunelessly regaled us in Autumn Portraits, Eric Bass' meditative compendium on mortality for the American Sandglass Theater. Bass' show was the quietly grand finale of Wednesday's programme for this year's Manipulate Visual Theatre Festival, in which illumination came in spades.
The evening opened with a double bill of work by two very different companies. The first, Unchained, saw the aerialist duo Paper Doll Militia in a black and white world where one of them is encased in a tent-like cage which is raised ever higher as their boiler-suited other half cuts through the ribbon-like bars to rescue them. Set to a clanging industrial score, the pair become mirror images of each other in an exquisite physical display before the tables are truly turned.
This was followed by an extended version of Tristissimo, a contemporary interpretation of Tristan and Isolde's doomed love story performed by Italy's CEC company, whose central couple open things naked apart from elaborate blonde wigs. As things contort their way out of shape, war rages and the male sings Nick Cave's The Ship Song while his beloved dances her way backwards to oblivion.
Autumn Portraits opened with an image of the puppeteer as a harlequin-masked mischievous god, getting his charges to perform tricks or else lulling them into resignation, as Bass did with his old
Jewish shoe-maker in the most moving of his six vignettes. Japanese warriors may have mourned their demons, but it was the music hall guy's final piece of audience orchestration that breathed fresh life into a moving and slyly witty display of humanity.
The Herald, February 6th 2015