NWR Issue 95

Dawn Chorus and Other Performances

Late March saw a serious literature overload. On Sunday 25th, Cardiff’s Fiction Fiesta starred young Argentine author Andrés Neuman, author of the new epic Traveller of the Century, who is translating a selection of Owen Sheers’ poetry into Spanish for the vast south American market. Also present among big UK hitters was Christopher MacLehose, LIBF Lifetime Achievement Awardwinner for International Publishing.

On Thursday 29th in Aberystwyth, the Maclehose imprint launched a trade edition of Angharad Price’s historical-biography pastiche, The Life of Rebecca Jones, in Lloyd Jones’ translation. And last weekend was the conference of the Association for Welsh Writing in English (AWWE) at Gregynog, its theme ‘Performing Wales’ and including a keynote speech by National Theatre Wales director John McGrath. Its opening ceremony awarded the inaugural M Wynn Thomas essay prize to encourage rigorous critical writing talent, and the winner was Kevin Mills (University of Glamorgan) with his essay ‘Broken Hallelujah’ from the bravely titled Crrritic! Sighs, Cries, Lies, Insults, Outbursts, Hoaxes, Disasters, Letters of Resignation, and Various Other Noises Off in These the First and Last Days of Literary Criticism (eds John Schad and Oliver Tearle, Sussex Academic Press, 2011). The runners up were PhD students Patrick Toal from Bangor University and Jessica George from Cardiff University.

Among AWWE’s conference sessions was Matthew Jones on ‘Young People’s Welsh Identities in the Theatre of [theatre company] Arad Goch’. This Aberystwyth-based company hosts Agor Drysau/Opening Doors, the international performing arts festival for young people, which late last month came to a rousing finale. Theatre is one of my antidotes to literature, and young people’s culture (and company, on a good day) my antidote to stress, so Agor Drysau was this year once again a restoring port of call.

I caught three performances from Germany, France and Wales, which between them (and respectively) spanned the age groups of eighteen months to four plus to young adult.

The whipcracking Eagle Calling Hawk and Crash I will review another time. The set of 16 Rue de Plaisance company’s The Reserve was a clearing with a hollow tree. It promised interaction but took too long getting going and the performers played ‘at’ the toddlers rather than ‘with’ them, even when batting pebbles to and fro. It worked best as a sound installation, however, and even those kids who’d started throwing cushions around loved the moment of the moon lighting up at the cue of a breeze’s sigh.

I escaped from Aber Arts Centre’s studio to their installation in Gallery 1: Dawn Chorus by Marcus Coates. This I can unequivocally recommend. It initially seems to comprise screens of ordinary people miming to an unrelated (yet so uplifting) score of birdsong. But the gallery notes reveal the project’s acutely original architecture. Six hundred hours of recordings were slowed down, analysed and performed by amateur singers, then cranked up again to top-trill-gear. These performers appear to speak rather than sing, although in most cases their body movements have also been fast-forwarded so that they are panting and twitching like the traditional wren on Boxing Day. One middle-aged woman seems to be sounding off in her staffroom like a chaffinch on a mission. Worth setting your alarm for: runs until 12 May.

This is a version of Gwen Davies' Insider column published in the Western Mail on Saturday 31 March 2012.


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