MESA Festival Reviews
20 October 2020
Created by the 2020 Fi.ELD cohort MESA festival was an interactive, online multi-arts festival exploring the concept of family. It showcased young creatives, elevated underrepresented voices and provided a seat at the table for all. Five incredible events took place across seven days – celebrating the concept of family through a series of online workshops, discussions, screenings and audio-visual installations and a real world guided trail.
The Street Movement Project
Review: If You’ve Arrived, You’ve Already Volunteered Yourself
The Mesa Festival’s “The Street Movement Project” is a play-inducing drug that reminds us what it means to practice freedom.
Review by Kati Payne
Amy Gwilliam’s velvet voice lures listeners out of doors (with all precautions, of course) and invites listeners to get free. I’ll admit that I felt some inhibition about nosy neighbours kick in as I romped ‘round my backyard, barefooted, in the rain, playing on the fronds of hibernating grasses as if they were a drum set (which they were, in my alien mind). The project presents a utopic version of the sometimes cringe-worthy idea of audience participation: if you’ve arrived at the link for The Street Movement Project, you’ve already willingly volunteered yourself.
Swimming in the water that is late-stage capitalism primed me well to find pseudo-joy in obedience, but when Amy’s quirky companionship stopped telling me what to do and encouraged me to choose for myself, I was plunged head-first into the real joy that is practicing freedom.
The Street Movement Project, presented at the MESA Festival by East London Dance, has taken the leap from welcoming audiences to only witness, to encouraging audiences to be, to activate, to be welcomed inside. So assemble your pack, and head outside. Amy is eating an ice cream cone, patiently awaiting you.
Kati Payne Bio:
Kati Payne is a performer, maker, and writer currently based in Philadelphia, where she is pursuing her BFA at the University of the Arts under the direction of Donna Faye Burchfield. Kati’s practice of writing imaginary dances, a practice that was handed down to her from Barbie Diewald, urges her to investigate all the possible intersections of dance and writing.
Mothxrhood Talk 1
MESA Festival: Mothxrhood Review
Tuesday 20th October 2020
A developed flow of raw yet relatable conversation evolved from sincere stumbling sentences providing a humorous homage to raising young children, online discussion panel Mothxrhood explored the honest journey of parenthood and womanhood within the creative industry.
Seamlessly navigated by host Shelley Maxell, guests Kamee Abrahamian and Helen Benigson authentically delved into topics from the politics of care, to the performative birth space, to a sense of ownership challenged by the weight of patriarchal expectations. What was clear throughout, was the overwhelming sense of individualism in each journey with lots of intertwining contrasting and complimentary elements but ultimately all leading to the notion of having to find your own way.
Later in the discussion, the word ‘Mothering’ itself was challenged, raising new ideas about mothering each other and even oneself as opposed to children, moving away from the denotation of particular feminine ideals and questioning with more acceptance, how this would shape our society.
Finally, audience questions added spice to the dialogue, raising ideas of imagination vs. reality, links to the climate crisis and even how the social media aesthetic of glorifying the difficult moments in life can affect us. The audience were a credit to the work, adding hard-hitting questions to keep the panellists on their toes whilst stimulating interesting thoughts and ideas that will keep you thinking all day.
With two new guests, Grace Okereke and Thea Gajic on Thursday, the discussion will undoubtedly take new twists and turns as we continue to unite to share our experiences in a time where connection is paramount, you don’t want to miss it!
You can also read the review on Megan’s blog here
The Street Movement Project
Scriptwriter, narrator and audio recorder: Amy Gwilliam
Music composer: Lisa Majithia
Producers: Anna Dighero and Adina Dumitrascu
Wednesday 21st October 2020
Review by Hannah Barron
Professional dancers, beginners, non-dancers, young and old, this project doesn’t discriminate, all are welcomed with (virtual and covid safe) open arms. The Street Movement Project succeeds in being accessible and entertaining, yet challenging and thought-provoking. So grab your shoes, earphones, an open mind and head out the door.
Starting the recording, we are introduced to the upbeat, humorous and exceptionally compelling voice of our narrator Amy Gwilliam. By the end of the 20minute audio experience, Amy feels as familiar as an old friend, the one that’s always encouraging you to try new things. With her unwavering positive attitude, she challenges you to take in your surroundings, experiment with improvised movement, see and hear the mundanity of everyday life in a new and significantly more appealing way. Musicality is found in the rhythmic rumble of a bus, a stretch of pavement routinely walked offers up shapes and images not seen before, a fresh appreciation for daily textures and sound is formed.
The composition layered alongside our guide’s voice is tailored to the experience by Lisa Majithia. It allows for just the right degree of support and reinforcement of ideas presented, without highjacking focus. The result is enough internal space and time to grant access to deeper thought exploration (or at times perhaps the opposite an empty mind, meaningful stillness).
With what could easily be seen as a test of self-consciousness when asked to improvise in an open and possibly public space, The Street Movement Project instead offers a freeing environment that goes as far as transforming a daily commute into a playground of movement, thought and emotion. Never pressuring, never judging, a well-executed project by producers Anna Dighero and Adina Dumitrascu.
Blood + Water
Digital curators: Arda Awais and Savena Surana
Music producer: NWAKKE
Producers: L U C I N E and Kim Chi Le
Friday 23rd October 2020
Review by Hannah Barron
Blood + Water is a wonderfully personal, intimate and immersive experience that deserves to be explored and for its voices to be heard. The ‘interactive audio-visual digital experience’, investigates the idea of family and boldly challenges existing traditional definitions.
Using an intricate maze of visuals, questions, and games, it confronts personal opinions and emotions whilst allowing an insight into ideas of individuals from underrepresented backgrounds. Without revealing too much and ruining the discovery, there’s the potential for an unusual family dinner, a startlingly revealing game of ‘Simon Says’ and an honest, raw insight into loss. The piece generously shares, educates and allows individual choices to lead the way through what becomes a very unique process.
At times, the concepts and imagery presented can be somewhat disturbing and perhaps upsetting to a degree – though considerable warning is provided. But cut throughout are welcome moments of respite, reminders to breathe, delicate and beautifully integrated invitations of self-reflection.
Overall Blood + Water is thoughtfully constructed, mesmerising and unexpected. Further evolution of the ideas presented would be intriguing and with the live version planned for next year, it should be one to watch.
The Street Movement Project
Review by Nikhil Vyas (Next Choreography, Siobhan Davies)
Whether they are bustling metropolitan high streets or secluded residential cul-de-sacs, streets are the blocks from which our towns and cities are built. They have long been acknowledged and investigated as an artistic site, from the pedestrian spectacles of Francis Alys’ walks through Mexico City, to Anna Halprin’s participatory choreographies on the blocks of San Francisco. Now, as the COVID-19 Pandemic has totally transformed how we interact with these kinds of public spaces, the Street Movement Project- a part of East London Dance’s MESA Festival- offers a mini-toolkit for repair and renewal as we go through our local environments under the new normal.
An audio activity that begins seemingly under the guise of a movement class, the project guides the listener-participant a steadily escalating set of tasks and provocations. The warm, encouraging voice of Amy Gwilliam invites you to place yourself in a local space of your choice- I plumped for the local park, but wherever you end up, you won’t be staying there for long.
It begins simply- a turn of the head, a look upwards- but the piece almost immediately begins to rewire the experience of bodily presence. The act of blinking transforms into mental photography, and the seemingly mundane street, or park, or garden you’re in becomes a vista of possible subjects. Gwilliam and the other makers of the project (composer Lisa Majithia and producers Anna Dighero and Adina Dumitrascu) are interested in reconsidering the familiar, and the success of their piece lies in the patiently escalating methods they employ in exploring this thesis.
As you move, Gwilliam introduces more worlds and frameworks to guide the body, from the lattice map of cracks and crevices on the pavement, to the endless performances you see happening around you. Crucially, the piece sidesteps any notions of success or failure, instead allowing you to explore at your own terms of pace (and embarrassment!). By the end, floating and gliding and disco-dancing through my local streets like an alien, I realised the core of the project was a wish for play, for weirdness, for subversion to creep into the spaces we now take for granted. And by the end, I was entirely on board with this.
MESA festival have created a pack of work to help people get moving and creative at home during their week. The pack, which if you ordered in advance is posted through your letterbox, is written in a colloquial tone, as if you’re being spoken to.
Each day a new, accessible task is presented in colourful form. I’m glad of the simplicity and openness of the cues after a time that has been a creative gulf for many.
Beginning with saying hello to the new week, I build up my dance each day in my bedroom to create a short phrase. The bright colours, welcoming words and open questions brighten up my mornings and set my day up to be more positive and active than when I woke up.
Later in the week, the prompts encourage reflection, and I’m left thinking how simple little things like this can help us maintain our mental health amid the challenging times we live in.
You can also read the review here
ScreenShare Film Screening
Mohika Shankar Pānchtātvā
Katrina McPherson Moment (1999)
Maria Evans 2020 Rhythms
Botis Seva Can’t Kill Us All
Ana Garcia Delgado Hygge
Screenshare is the celebratory culmination of a mentoring programme run by The Fi.ELD. Three young choreographers were mentored by professionals as they sought to make new dance for camera amid lockdown.
The online evening opens with Mohika Shankar’s Pānchtātvā, a joyous dance beginning with strong gaze- right through the camera. Shahar sympathetically blends poetry by Yash Kulshrestha with natural landscapes and textures framed by kathak influenced movement. Silhouettes and shadows are particular highlights when contrasted against bright, luscious surroundings.
Mentor Katrina Mcpherson next shows the much celebrated Moment (1999). The subtleties of light and colour used are enticing, as the camera appears to join in the dance. It mimics and moves amongst the dancers whilst sharing their surroundings. Powerful framings of connection followed by emptiness gracefully hint at a deeper narrative, building and layering meaning for each viewer.
Maria Evans’s 2020 Rhythms stands out from the rest, as the choreography centres on factory machinery, making PPE. Rhythms of clockwork are established and overlapped to thrilling effect. Divided screens are used thoughtfully, with varied directionality and pace showing the functional and the fancy. A stark cut reveals the humanity behind the production, and the socially conscious basis for this slick work.
Maria’s mentor Botis Seva created his film Can’t Kill Us All in the depths of lockdown. The mood of the piece is established instantly in the deep blue of dusk as Botis sprints alone. He is visibly brimming with emotion – it escaping through his gesture and rattling breath. Camera angles are used to create stunning frames of a figure trapped and writhing in confined spaces, attempting to continue functioning. Visceral movement depicts emotions from frustration to despair, and the energy of youth is shown in shocking contrast to the near catatonia of the exhausted protagonist.
Hygge by Ana Garcia Delgado depicts an altogether different mood right from its outset. Spanish summer is epitomised in the terracotta and tiles, as Ana expertly fuses movement with voiceover. Editing is thoughtful and clever- with one movement transcending the time and space she dances in. Once soaked and dripping wet, the dance becomes exploratory and playful, and what was insular grows out, thus drawing the audience in as it rounds off.
You can also read the review here
Blood + Water Podcast
Review by Natasha Abramson @NatashaAbramson
The Blood + Water podcast series is an experience that will transcend the MESA festival after it closes Sunday 25 October.
First impressions of a podcast based on family made me think; this is a good topic to discuss. I’m not so insular to not realise that everyone has a different experience of family. But, I was very blind to the impact such a discussion would have on myself.
The three part podcast hosted by Becksy Becks who introduces herself as a “poet by day, a dancer by daydream and awesome everything else,” leads the discussion with sensitivity and inquisitiveness.
She asks questions that us as the listener want to know more about. Guests vary from artists and creatives to doctors in the field of family and relationships. The variety of views on what family is, who family is, do we need family and why family is important, not only brings depth to the discussion but humanises an experience that we all feel yet rarely talk about. As Dr Becca Bland says in the closing episode, “it’s not something talked about very openly in this country.”
The podcast forces you to look at your own relationships in your life, with those that are related biologically and others by proximity of experience and intimacy.
It forced me to confront who I see as family and what I want my family to be.
There are some very frank conversations and difficult experiences are talked about by numerous guests including Juke in the second episode who opens up about a confusing and polarised upbringing in a mixed ethnicity household.
This podcast will surprise you in all the right ways. Give it a try, you might just be thinking about things you’d never had the opportunity to do so before. Doesn’t that say a lot of good things about this festival?
Natasha is a writer who is a fan of anything that gets people thinking and talking about difficult subjects. If you’d like to get in touch you can contact her via Twitter @NatashaAbramson
Mothxrhood Talk 2
Mothxrhood presented a window of insight into the trials and tribulations of parenting within the creative arts through a lens of compassion and honesty as we devote our attention to the raw lived experiences of Grace O’Kereke, Thea Gajic and articulate discussion compass-cum-host Shelley Maxwell. These three female forces present their individual threads of Mothxrhood to weave a tapestry inextricably bound by love amidst hurdles of injustice and regressive patriarchal structures at every turn.
What emerged prominently was the continuous opposing choices; the seemingly incompatible matrimony of career and mothxrhood, the pre-existing enmity brewing within organisations and rehearsal rooms towards mothxrs who bring their children to work and the idyllic expectations of parenting presented on social media, contrary to the exhausting, unpredictable and imperfect reality.
Maxwell denoted mothxrhood a juggling act; navigating both personal desires and motivations alongside parenting. The life of a mothxr in the creative industries remains one of hurdles, despite living in a world that claims to be striving for equality and social reform. Though space was made to identify the thieves of joy in mothxrhood, these women (with the added sporadity of vibrant cameo appearances from Gajic’s son) emerged empowering heroes.
Discussion cyclically returned to the notion that whilst there was independence in decision making, dissipating was a lack of dependence, for the world cannot run on sheer grit and resilience that these women possess in abundance, alone. Shelley Maxwell quoted Plato’s ‘our need will be the real creator’ with mothxrs being the tools of invention and it remains unjustifiably potent that they are players in a world of arts organisations which do not extend the same nourishing, nurturing hand to that which they give their children. Thus, the insufficiencies in care for those in the creative industries embarking upon the journey of mothxrhood remains palpable.
Screenshare Panel Discussion
Emma Cahusac, the host of Screenshare Panel, navigated a weaving and intriguing discourse across the realities, complexities and possibilities of screendance, in light of a newfound appetite for digital art in this Covid-19 age. Throughout, we heard thoughts and offerings from a diverse selection of digital artists, consumers and contributors: Alice Underwood, Ankur Bahl, Jonzi D, Miranda Sheehy and Omari Carter.
Whilst acknowledging a universal bereaved ache for live performance and the costs due to the urgent transportation of dance for digital digestion, the panel were able to see the benefits in this pandemic-propelled screendance resurgence. Film is a tool upon which the universal language of dance can be monopolised; whilst exploiting the lens as a vehicle to translate, capture and curate, art has gained in representation, accessibility and innovation. Further yet, globalised mass consumption of work due to exposure to pre-cultivated online audiences has allowed an immediate transcendence of geographical boundaries, never before seen collaborations and increasing traction to dance at rate and pace beyond the possibilities of a single live performance.
Thus, dance has, perhaps, experienced a revolution of sorts, albeit innovation born out of necessity for survival in the current climate. Suddenly the audience has a whole new autonomy. Choreographers have relinquished the controls over the hands in which their work lands and amateur filmmakers born overnight are contributing to the landscape of arts from their homes, without funding body or commissioned approval as a prerequisite.
Are we in the midst of a digital dance conception and curation revolution, or are we merely crossing an ephemeral bridge over a temporary gaping hole left in the absence of live performance? Is current investment in the digital realm one that will bring prosperous longevity? It appears time will tell, though it was unanimous across the panel when concluding that whilst this sudden digital demand has sparked an exciting catalyst for hybridity and productivity, their hunger to revel in a live theatre performance is greater than ever.
Screenshare Film Screening
Screenshare presented a diverse compilation of dance captured behind the lens and the evening certainly satisfied the hunger for screendance, providing both new and archived contributions to the digital sphere that are packed with consideration and ambition.
Mentee Mohika Shankar’s Pānchtātvā, provided a nourishing exploration of the natural world. Elements are illuminated; light tickles swirling wrists and animated shadows spiral and ripple beneath the undergrowth. In a work of endless textures, there is a harmony between poetic narration, grounded kathak-inspired sequencing and idyllic landscapes.
Mentor Katrina McPherson presented the dynamic Moment (1999). To the broken breath, scrapes and sweaty bodied sounds of a studio, dancers emerge from a conglomeration of displaced limbs in a dizzying haze of undoing and unbecoming. The camera enacts as another player in a mesmerising performance, circling the dancers. This work is intriguing; both physically striking yet layered in deeper questioning of meaningful connection.
From our sense of consciousness to social conscience we arrive at 2020 Rhythms. Mentee Maria Evans, across split screens, divulges a fragmented insight into a PPE production factory. Whirring foot pedals, delicate needlework and unfolding fabric are a choreographed facade, hiding painful hidden truths.
Deeper still, Botis Seva’s intricately complex and thoughtfully layered Can’t Kill Us All delves into dark, psychological torment of a despairing protagonist. Visceral scenes of frantic running, rocking, screaming, and explosive frustration reveal a pained soul, writhing in the confines of home. Imagery runs wild in a work so intricately bound between anxiety, fight, denial and resignation.
The final work, Hygge by Ana Garcia Delgado, is a convivial interpretation of contentment. Delicate scenes of folding, wrapping, resting and shower soaking are match cut to transcend real time capture, monopolising the potential of the digital realm. I was left somewhere amongst the terracotta and tiles longing for the calm blur of summer days and a sense of nostalgia that closely follows.
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