Rodrigo Pardo is an Argentinian choreographer and dancer based in Brussels whose show 'FLAT' has toured Europe over the last three years, and finally came to Norwich tonight for the first of two performances at The Forum, providing the opening show of this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival.
I'd already been to one lunchtime concert today, but tonight was my first of this year's official volunteer shifts. We were to present ourselves and report to the Event Manager at 9.00pm for our team briefing before the show commenced at 10.00pm, and I have to say it was certainly a case of layering up under my blue volunteer t-shirt tonight as I set off this evening. The temperature had dipped to about nine degrees, and a slight breeze made that feel decidedly chilly, yet in spite of this a good crowd had gathered on Millenium Plain to watch the show.
The large white square on the front of The Forum's glass atrium wall gave a clue as to what to expect. The shapes and structures on it clearly represented the furnishings of an apartment - a bed, a sink and cooker, and a bathroom, and was secured by cables so as to be rigid, yet not touching the glass of The Forum at any point.
Around fifty deckchairs were arranged at the top of the steps on Millenium Plain, providing seating for those members of the audience organised enough to arrive early, and hardy enough to sit outside in the cold for almost forty minutes before the start of the performance. Our job was to keep the steps clear, and persuade the rest of the audience to stand and watch from the safety of the plain itself, although it has to be said that the best views are actually obtained by watching this far back.
The show starts with a sole acrobat in a harness moving around the 'room', exploring and negotiating the obstacles. As the projections begin to add colour and tone to the room the true perspective is revealed, and it is not long before the brain forgets that we are looking at a vertical structure, and instead starts to trick us into believing that we are actually looking down on the apartment from above.
The soundtrack and the projections begin to challenge the very reality of the surfaces, and the narrator begins to muse on the whole concept of consciousness, dream and fantasy. It is all performed with an elegance and grace that genuinely tricks us into accepting the virtual perspective of the set. The philosophy is firmly rooted in the work of Argentinian author and poet Jorge Louis Borges, but the execution is filled with lovely intimate little touches, like contemplating the number of kilometres of toilet paper used within a lifetime, alongside the bigger issues of life and death, and the mundanity of daily routine. The dream sequences, which concentrate on our deepest fears and phobias, are at times slightly disturbing, but are contrasted with the warmth and domesticity of sharing the apartment, and a life, with a loved one.
It is tempting to try and capture the essence of the performance via a photograph, but a prior announcement has been made not to use any form of camera - the risk of an unwanted flash breaking the performer's concentration is simply not a risk worth taking, and it has to be said that the vast majority of the audience do comply with the request. And it is so much nicer to keep the phone in the pocket, and simply enjoy the show.
Hopefully those that came tonight will have been both impressed and entertained during the 30 minute performance. For those who missed it, there will be one further performance on Saturday evening. I will be back again with my volunteer hat on, and hopefully able to discard a layer or two if the evening is warmer. But, either way, a dramatic and thought-provoking start to this year's festival.
The Norfolk and Norwich Festival continues until May 29th, and the free outdoor entertainment includes the Garden party in Chapelfield Gardens on the weekend of May 21st - 22nd.