1: SONGS so much more than a feminist pop concert

from: Juncture.com March 2014

In all honesty, I think I’m still reeling from what I’ve witnessed. My brain can’t quite harness the sheer power and raw emotion that’s hit me like a speeding truck. Thinking back, I can’t remember the last time I felt so utterly blown away by a performance, if ever at all.

Before arriving at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, to watch the performance of Nicole Beutler’s 1: Songs; I had very little idea of what was in store. Having read the event description, and watched some YouTube videos, it was fair to say I was rather confused (I suppose I still am a little now – but I guess that’s okay). I couldn’t quite fathom what sort of artform the event was supposed to take. Little did I know that this would not matter in the slightest once the performance was underway.

As the lights went down, and the music’s dynamics increased, the audience waited; eyes transfixed on the five microphones placed in the centre. It seemed like a lifetime as the music began its next loop. A minute or so later, I knew that this performance was worth the wait.

The moment Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti appeared on the stage, a different kind of atmosphere seemed to transcend the theatre. She carried a strange, and almost terrifying sense of power about her, which I’m finding really hard to describe (I’m sorry, that’s kind of tragic as I’m writing for a blog post). Standing downstage centre, her face in silhouette, she greeted the audience with a lilting, “…Hello”, leaving us all unsure whether to reply. However, as soon as she opened her mouth and began to sing, a musical arrangement of a monologue from Büchner’s Woyzeck, Guardia Ferragutti was nothing but engaging. It seemed less that the song was a representation of the character Marie, and more as if she was mediating through Ibelisse. She had me from the first line.

We were eased in gently, I suppose, by these first songs; a new, exciting take on the tragic heroines-and anti-heroines- of literature. Hearing the characters of Goethe, Jean Cocteau and others represented through Ibelisse’s rich, expressive vocals was an aural delight; and will stay with me for a long time. The pain in her voice cut deep; and tugged at something inside every member of the audience. It’s worth pointing out as well that the accompaniment to these songs was highly impressive – Gary Shepherd’s slick, contemporary backing music, mixed live at the back of the theatre, swept the songs along and pretty much sent the whole performance into a different dimension.

The whole performance took a turn, however, when Ibelisse sang a monologue from Jane Eyre. Her vocals turned to shouting, as she questioned the audience, “Do you think I am an automaton? A machine without feelings?” As if to reiterate her point, she began to dance, dropping the most exquisite rendition of the robot I have ever seen. You may ask, “How could this possibly fit with the piece?” but trust me, it was probably the most fantastic pairing of movement with drama ever created.

Similar fusions of drama, dance and music ensued in the performance, with a common theme running through – the sheer conviction contained within them. I would say one of the most memorable points of the evening was seeing Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti crawling across the stage, yapping like a dog; the barking scarily realistic. I turned to my friend, and we simultaneously burst into laughter – but certainly not because we found it funny. We were laughing at the sheer talent of this performer, and at her ridiculous level of conviction towards her persona. I dare you to name one other performer this year who can so easily convince you that they’re a dog. I dare you.

By the way, I hope you’re not dissuaded by the intensity and seriousness of this showcase. However dynamic and intimidating it was, there were some dashes of humour in there too. I loved when Ibelisse was lying on the floor, having thrown her microphones and stands in all directions in a frightening rage, quietly whimpered, “I’m sorry.” Give the situation, which got a fair few laughs. You couldn’t fault her on her inclusion of the audience either, not when she climbed down from the stage, getting members of the audience to join in with her “Shoobie doobies” through the microphone, which was quite frankly hilarious. Kind of like your favourite pop sensation on their headline tour. But feminist. And cooler.

In all honesty, amazed as I was when I heard that 1: Songs was slated by feminist critics, I don’t care. They said that the piece didn’t suggest anything new about women’s rights, but I didn’t go to the performance expecting it to. What it did enforce, however, was the sheer strength and emotional capacity of the women the performance portrayed, and of women in general. Rarely have I seen a performance which leaves the watcher feeling so lustful for life, and with such a willingness to be strong. There would be nothing better to see around the date of International Women’s Day.

So I’m making a heartfelt plea to you: If you happen to see Nicole Beutler’s 1: Songs advertised, don’t hesitate in booking your ticket. I certainly will be if I ever encounter it again. It’s like the funkiest, feminist pop concert you could ever imagine, but infinitely better. I’m not saying it’s a light, easy-to-watch performance, and remotely suitable for the faint hearted, but it’s unbelievably wonderful. And if you don’t agree, then however little I understand you, I’ll just quote 1: Songs’ creator, Nicole Beutler, herself: “We didn’t try to please everyone.”

© Marion Smith

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