martes, 9 de junio de 2015

ACT acts, ACT in Bilbao

Bilbao, year 7 a.c. (after the crisis). ACT: four days, 15 pieces of theatre, dance and performance, small format, two venues (Teatro Barakaldo and Kafe Antzokia), a committed audience (and ready to jump on to the stage at any moment), an alternative atmosphere incomparable in a city like Bilbao, many nudes (these modern actors love taking their clothes off), John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Rocío Jurado, whistling txistu (typical Basque flute), flamenco in Basque, 70 countries where homosexuality is still penalized, immigrants who are waiting for their papers to have a normal life (or at least as normal as yours and mine), haggard druids, dancing Siamese sisters, trilingual presentations (English, Basque and Spanish) and on top of everything, a great flair for enjoyment. 

This is the 12th year ACT has been celebrated: a unique festival that brings to Bilbao companies from all over the world. In this edition we had representatives from Korea, the UK, the Netherlands, Spain, Euskadi (Basque Country), Cuba, Germany, Iraq, Belgium and France. Not bad for a festival whose budget may be small but inversely proportionate to the enjoyment it provides. ACT is organized by the Arts & Drama School BAI, which has been around for a while and divides its activities between Barakaldo and Bilbao. One day they decided it was about time to enlighten theatre-goers in Bilbao, so they brought in performances more open to the avant-garde and to international relations. It was clear from the beginning that one of its objectives was to be a meeting point between companies from all over the world. And for those companies to get to know each other here, in Bilbao, going out for a drink and trying delicious “pintxos”.  

The energy evident during the celebration of ACT is quite difficult to explain. The audience is mainly young (though you can also find people of all ages), and curious (but I´m sure there are some who just tagged along), and includes a lot of aspiring actors (and probably some scientists and IT people, too) but very few prejudices. In fact, all of us who are there know that at any minute you could find yourself onstage doing the most absurd things. For instance, on the first day of the performances, four members of the audience ended up playing 1981’s mythical tennis match between McEnroe and Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon. Yes, you read it correctly: there were four people involved even though there were only two tennis players. But the other two also had very crucial roles: one was holding an egg while the other was pressing a toilet plunger on the floor to imitate the sound of the tennis ball when it hits the racket. It was a project presented by the British guru/druid/actor/genius Jamie Wood, “Beating McEnroe”. It was a piece of nonsense that took surrealism to the extreme (and he ended up in his underwear, of course).

But before that we had been invaded… by plants in “La invasión de los ladrones de cuerpos” (“The invasion of the body snatchers”). It consisted of a multimedia project which
"La invasión de los ladrones de cuerpos"
allowed the only actor in the company La casa en el árbol to transmit his anguish to the audience. Through a mini camera he offered different points of view on his relationship with several disturbing dummies that ended up being cloned by plants. Just like you, like me, like the whole of society would. His legs became those of his girlfriend, his orgasm was hers, and at the same time he was other people: he was everyone. His way of playing within the screen was quick and smart. And of course, he ended up in his underwear.  

While Hannah Sullivan, UK (if this were a glossy magazine, here we would see her
"Me, my selfie and I"
age, but me, personally, I prefer her nationality)
made us dance to the 90s rhythms of her youth to make us realize how people dance around us, for me the most stunning act was seeing two Siamese sisters dancing while dressed as glamorous 30s chicks with plastic faces. With hairstyles a lo Clara Bow (silent movies’ film star) and the same look as any of the oppressive characters in Didier Cómes’ comics, it was “Me, my selfie and I” by Katja Heitmann, Netherlands (and here I do have to write her age, as when she and her brother –not sister- took their masks off, we found out they were… only 15!). What extraordinary energy, what a way of moving those bodies, what symmetry! At first I thought it was only one person in front of a mirror, but no, it was two of them with a mini screen in between portraying the plastic doll’s disturbing face. These two didn´t end up in their underwear, but when they took their masks off they uncovered much more: their child-like essence, their potential, their genius. If they can do this at 15, what will they be able to do at 25?

People are waiting, but what are they waiting for? Their images in close-up talk to us from three white sheets on stage. They tell us about their boredom while waiting. They smile, they share their fears and, little by little, they unravel a labyrinth of stories about immigrants who are waiting for their legal papers in order to have a life - a life they were dreaming of when they had to abandon their countries. Mokhallad Rasem’s proposal in “Waiting” was a very powerful one: three dancers on stage dressed in black start a dance routine that transforms them into moving cinema screens. The three members of the company compose and decompose those people’s images, those human beings who, just like their images on stage, become defragmented because our society doesn´t want them to be legal. 

"Homo sapiens"
And of course, one of the winners of ACT 2015: Igor Vrebac, Bosnia (living in Netherlands). On our arrival on the first day of ACT, even without knowing who he was, his presence in the audience captivated all of us: tall, a body to die for, constant smile on his face and that particular grace that only dancers have when they walk. His play, “Homo sapiens”, goes deep into his memories as a gay child and teenager in a chauvinist and heterosexist society; in a very intimate way he opens his heart (in his underwear, of course) and he reminds us
"Homo sapiens"
of the fact that, although in 70 countries people who love people of their own gender are still penalized or even sentenced to death, very deep inside we are all Homo Sapiens. Some people said that this play also includes the most poetic live pee ever seen on stage. 

One of the strong points of ACT is the fact that its participants stay for the whole duration of the festival. They see their colleagues’ plays and they are there for anybody to share with them their opinions about their performances. More festivals like this are needed. More artistic expressions with that energy, that flair for enjoyment and sharing. Being there you feel like laughing, dancing, sometimes crying: you just feel like expressing yourself. Just like being an artist. Congratulations, ACT!

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