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Experimentica15, Chapter Arts Centre - the New Welsh Review Blog

BLOG Sophie Baggott

NWR Issue 109

Experimentica15, Chapter Arts Centre

Experimentica15 was at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, from 4 until 8 November 2015. Sophie attended two events at this annual festival showcasing experimental work within a supportive environment and covering live art, performance and Inter-disciplinary projects

GABRIEL DHARMOO: ‘Anthropologies Imaginaires’

Gabriel Dharmoo’s ‘Anthropologies Imaginaires’ certainly shook up the ear drums, but this was far from a typical Friday night soundtrack. The audience had been promised vocal gymnastics and this young French performer did not disappoint. The lights dimmed and Dharmoo launched into his first act: lingual clicking.

For me this was as odd as it might sound, even odder perhaps. With my younger sister in tow, I had arrived clueless as to what the show entailed and for the opening minutes we were ashamedly, side-splittingly baffled. A blank-canvas approach to the setting in Chapter’s theatre gave Dharmoo an absolute monopoly on our attention at the outset.

This turbocharged clicking was very much centrestage until a mockumentary materialised as a backdrop a short while into the show. ‘Experts’ explained Dharmoo’s first episode as a Ruonsthan invocation prayer. To my further shame I scribbled down the details, trusting wholeheartedly – and wrongly – in their authenticity.

Dharmoo lapsed into the next segment of his vocalisations and the extraordinary soundtrack continued. His energy was uncontainable. Not only were his vocal chords working overtime but his face and whole body were just as hyperactive. He jetted back and forth across the stage without the slightest letup in enthusiasm throughout the entire forty minutes.

In particular, the Sviljains exorcisms were mesmerising – mainly because Dharmoo was as unpredictable a performer as one can imagine. Here he whipped out a large, silver bowl balanced on top of a tall, black box and very verbally proceeded to splutter out ‘inner demons’. Behind this shaking figure the onscreen ‘experts’ told us that this activity was emblematic of the male psyche. At one (alarming) point he made as if to unzip his skinny jeans. There was no knowing where this performance was going.

Similarly gripping in bizarreness were the Paretngong aquatic songs that ensued, where Dharmoo gargled into the water-filled bowl and produced some fairly exceptional noises. This was, said the ‘experts’, a celebratory water rave. The festivity was followed by a collective hypnotic trance – yes, audience interaction. Imitating the master of Sarieh hypnotised choirs, Dharmoo led us in a song of sorts. All the while, the ‘experts’ kept up their commentary: ‘he sings and soars in the musical texture that he just created.’

To close, we were treated to a series of assorted sounds: the Ab–Pe’s primitive vocals, the Elelé’s more sophisticated renditions, and the clenched teeth of the Girrhu. Each was as surreal as what had preceded, hilariously so. To keep the absurdity alive, Dharmoo’s show ended with introductions – in the final minutes the ‘experts’ presented their names, perfectly fictional, and smiled into the camera. Undoubtedly ‘Anthropologies Imaginaires’ had some quite serious intentions, but these were obscured by the haphazardness of it all. Entertainment value: full marks.


The waterfront drizzle was not the most inviting scenery for an outdoor performance. A lone Chapter representative greeted me as I approached the Norwegian Church in desolate Cardiff Bay, but thankfully we were soon joined by a coach of other audience members. Without delay we braved the breeze to make our way over to the Senedd steps, where ‘Seven Falls’ was due to take place.

The two-minute route forecasted the distinctively ‘Experimentica-esque’ nature of the upcoming show, that is, bordering on the surreal. We passed a bench holding a clarinet-playing boy and three women silently knitting with vibrant red wool. Just short of the Senedd lay two canoes, while two women in red anoraks, dresses and clunky, black shoes hovered nearby. One twirled, flailed her arms and rolled on the ground.

The show opened with these megaphone-bearing women, Teresa and Karen, announcing their approach to boating and the dangers that can threaten journeys by water. The dialogue was casual, intimate even, almost as if the audience was privy to a conversation between them alone. The performers seemed to have a tongue-in-cheek attitude to their script, which mostly consisted of somewhat mundane advice and a sprinkling of anecdotes about sailing.

At times the two women would break out into random dance routines – the rain certainly didn’t sink their buoyant spirits. For me, the highlight was a seemingly spontaneous delivery of Calon Lân from two individuals sat behind me, whose lyrics were soon picked up by others of us in the audience to form a small, makeshift choir. Coupled with the backdrop of the Pierhead Building, this made for a particularly poignant moment.

Yet the show was often a little hard to follow and half the time I wasn’t convinced that even its participants knew what they were getting at. At the end I asked the knitters to let me in on their significance; they had no idea. Perhaps this was the point – you never know what is going to crop up on a sailing trip so prepare to be unprepared.

‘Seven Falls’ reached a spectacular climax of strangeness when Teresa and Karen submerged themselves into the water filling each canoe. They emerged sodden, and picked up right where they left off: singing and dancing and slapping their legs as percussion to their lively performance. Experimentica was nothing if not a saga of surprises.

Sophie Baggott is on the Journalism MA at Cardiff University.


previous blog: Frizzi 2 Fulci at Aberystwyth Arts Centre
next blog: House, Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown


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