REVIEW: Us & Them #4 - Attenborough Arts Centre

A huge thank you to Natalie Beech (The Grade) for writing a sound review of our most recent Us & Them platform. 

Click HERE for full review. 

Midlands-based arts collective Tetrad hosted the fourth edition of Us & Them, a showcase of local emerging performance artists, at Attenborough Arts Centre last Sunday to huge success. 

Just a year after its birth, Tetrad has managed to draw in a growing audience to experience new performance work, an art form with a growing following and popularity in Leicester.

Throughout the night artist Robert Hardaker performed a shorter version of his durational piece CHANT (cleanse), originally 14 hours in length, which audience members were able to experience during intervals in the upstairs gallery space. Covering himself with wool and clay that he intermittently washes off, the piece shows Hardaker mould and remould himself and his surroundings before ridding himself of them.

The viewing experience was interesting in itself, in that it allowed you to see only sections of the performance. When I first entered the room, Hardaker was wearing tights that he stuffed with clay until they broke, carrying the weight of the material in a display of strength and endurance. The performance at this moment was empowering to watch, the determination and intensity of this action showed Hardaker on sure ground. Returning later, the scene was quite different. Stood naked and unprotected on top of the clay and wool, now in a large pile, Hardaker vomited into it. The strength from before had disappeared and the audience sees him more vulnerable, clutching onto handfuls of the material. 

The piece was all at once energising, sad and involving, envoking a desire to help or comfort Hardaker, something reflected by other audience members in the post-show talk. Brilliant and moving, I felt compelled to watch more of the piece and follow his journey.

In the studio, the first performance featured Sophie Swoffer's 'Take the Shot', a film-noir themed multimedia performance featuring projected images, film and a stormy soundscape. The audience were boxed in the confines of a white square marked on the studio floor, restricting our perspective. Swoffer moved around the space, wearing a tight-fitting red dress, heels and red lipstick. She gradually fractured this image, distorting her make-up, hair and the projected images of herself. The idea was there; questioning our societal perspective on the female ideal, beauty and the negative effects of endlessly capturing ourselves on camera. A familiar idea is not necessarily bad, but it was explored in such an overly familiar way. The smearing of red lipstick across her face and the soundtrack of rain and thunder are tired devices and the restricted audience view was more frustrating than unique. Moreover, I was left feeling that I understood, but that I wasn't interested.

The idea of challenging your audience to engage, giving each member their own individual experience is certainly a good one, and perhaps reassessed this could achieve the desired effect. If 'Take the Shot' had been more personal to Swoffer and less focused on her stereotypical persona, we might have found out more about how she feels about the issues she is exploring. As it is, it lacks authenticity and failed to draw its viewers in.

Next up was Sam Metz with 'Got Something to Say - but no joy', a piece in which Metz moves around a microphone stand, but never speaks. Paying homage to the famous dance moves of Joy Division's Ian Curtis, Metz dances Curtis-style to white noise, almost but never quite tuning into different radio stations. The details of the piece, such as the horror expressed on Metz's face as her body seemed to move of its own accord, mechanical and clown-like, were what made it so disturbing and effecting. Moving to the front of the stage, she would splash her face and armpits with water, suggesting an exhaustion which echoed her repetitive movement and tired eyes. The performance at times felt quiet, understated and could have benefited from making the movement and routine more exaggerated. An interesting look at how we consume and interpret celebrity culture, forming our own kind of strange symbolism around it.

After a short comedic break that took shape in the form of 'Tetralude', a game where performers had to complete a task decided by the audience but unknown to them (a very good party game), Tetrad's own artist Katherine Hall came to the stage with an early sharing of her performance 'Buoy-Up'. The performance was billed as speaking of the responsibilities of a life-guard, but explored a deeper sense of the responsibilites of saving yourself and others. Hall sat rowing an unseen boat to the soundtrack of her own voice, speaking of building the boat and the care and attention it requires in order to keep it functioning.

Throughout the piece the sense of an 'other' is prevalent, something which she is simultaneously scared of and attracted to. Hall carried a ball and chain and paired with confident, assured movements this emphasised the strength that is required to stay afloat. Towards the end of the performance, the truth of her feelings about overcoming her fears come through and she steps away from the boat, showing a more fragile self. A visceral performance that skilfully presented the artist's doubts, fears, desires and hopes by immersing her audience in her thoughts by means of poetry and physicality.

Overall, Us & Them #4 brought together an impressive array of artists under one roof in an event where the audience are interacted with, engaged and ultimately valued. Us and Them is fast becoming a power-house of performance art in the Midlands, brilliantly showcasing emerging local talent, drawing in new audiences and demonstrating the power and potential of live art.