Anybody out for a few beers in Llandudno might be mistaken for thinking their drinks had been spiked when they saw a group of people dressed in white smocks and wearing blank, white face masks gathering outside a disused garage in the heart of the town.
It was the meeting place for Joel Cockrill’s installation Ffloc, an immersive experience which converts an old mechanic’s garage on Mostyn Broadway into a walk-through world of loud music, projections and bilingual voiceovers. The audience is asked to wear the white garb before they go in, which has the unsettling effect of homogenising everybody, removing their identities by blanking their faces and deleting our fashion choices.
The experience itself is a little disorientating, a little confusing, not altogether clear in its aim or premise, but maybe that’s the point. On Friday night we got the music performed by a live band, but didn’t get the smoke effects promised in the brochure (perhaps not surprising for a building of its size and lack of ventilation). I didn’t feel connected with the performance so much as impressed by the set-up – being surrounded by tens of blank, staring faces while your ears are bombarded with trip-hop sounds, rap-poetry and Welsh language reminiscences was memorable enough.
Divina De Campo on the Day-Glo Bus Tour
There was a cartload more of surreal at the town’s Oriel Mostyn gallery with Shani Rhys James’s Automaton, a headless mannequin dressed in a Victorian governess’s jet black gown which taps out a rhythmic pattern with its clawed, metallic finger onto a steel table. Interacting with and around this set-piece were two dancers, one dressed in a white hoop skirt and corset, like a damaged ballerina from the imagination of Tim Burton, the other dressed in an ankle-length black dress, feathers, top hat and gimp mask. I’ve no idea what they represented to the artistes, but to me they were just plain spooky.
One of the centrepieces of Llawn03 is the Haus of Helfa, which sees a reclaimed empty building transformed into a showcase for various different Welsh artists. Each artist has their own room or space, and you can walk freely around the house, up and down its four storeys, wandering in and out of them all. There are flickering television sets, picture frame-topped tables, an Edwardian style repository, a naked woman floating in a fish bowl, a room full of starkly lit white envelopes, even a room that you enter through two billowing ceiling-high sheets. Alan Whitfield’s Eyes Down installation recreates a tacky bingo hall, complete with formica tables, bingo cards and dabbers.
Shani Rhys James’s Automaton
Definition of ‘different’: a tour of Llandudno’s lost theatres aboard a red double-decker bus festooned with pink balloons, accompanied by a drag queen singing operatic arias and a mute who likes to act out through the medium of mime.
That’s Divina and Dymphna’s Day-Glo Bus Tour in a rather cracked nutshell. And it was fabulous! The bus was originally to have been an open-topped affair, so it was a shame it wasn’t in the end as Divina De Campo’s stacked high-heel boots made her so tall that she couldn’t stand up straight with a roof on top! But it made the tour a much more intimate affair. As we were driven around Llandudno’s “treacherous one-way system” to visit the former locations or currently derelict theatres of the resort, Divina educated us in her own amusing style about the buildings’ history, their origins, heydays and downfalls, while Dymphna D’Arcy careered up and down the aisle acting out Divina’s commentary.
But there’s more to Divina than curly wigs and plunging necklines. That girl has one hell of a voice on her, and accompanied the tour by singing various operatic arias at each stop. The passengers were given postcards of old photos of the theatres at their height – the Odeon, the Arcadia, the Grand and the Palladium – and we learnt that while the former two have long been demolished, there’s still life in the Palladium (well, if you can call a Wetherspoon’s life!) and there are ambitious plans for the dilapidated Grand (the old Broadway Boulevard nightclub).
The sunshine drenched Llandudno in soaring temperatures on Day 2, which made the various promenade pieces even more enjoyable. One of the highlights was Babs and Stella’s Intergalactic Spectacular, a comedy dance theatre performance by Kitsch ‘n’ Sync Collective and Alex Marshall-Parsons. Babs and Stella are conjoined cosmic space cadets from the planet Kitsch who find themselves terrorised by the evil Dr D Dreadful (or Deidre) and his terrifying Robopup and Cyberpussy. It’s a madcap performance with its roots firmly set in 1950s B-movies and the colourful fun of Gerry Anderson (who can resist the theme tune to Captain Scarlet?). I’ve seen these dancers perform before in other guises (at Wales Dance Platform 2015) and can safely say there’s more talent in this collective than you’ll probably see in a whole season of The X Factor.
Joel Cockrill’s installation Ffloc
Another promenade spectacle was Acrojou’s The Wheelhouse, a nautical narrative street show which unfolds in and around a circular set which rolls along the prom, the audience in pursuit. It’s quite unlike anything you may have seen before, and is presented beautifully by performers Barney White and Jeni Barnard. The design of both the rolling set and the costumes is reminiscent of the world of Mad Max or Waterworld, and it is enormous fun to see the story play out (a mime to music and sound) and to follow the progress of the Wheelhouse.
In the main Tabernacle chapel was Llawn03 curator Marc Rees’s installation Testimony. Within the ecclesiastical surroundings of this 1875 worshipping hall sits a huge neon and fluorescent Perspex cube, segmented like shelving, and sitting within it a handful of old, well-thumbed and much-venerated Holy Bibles. Marc says the installation resonated with the building’s poignant political past, while also questioning its future. Being a Non-Conformist chapel, it’s obvious what that political background is, and although it is a very well looked after and handsome building, the question over its future is just as clear. To me, the giant green cube represented modernity and progress, technology and non-secularism – and there it was, sitting right at the heart of the chapel, like a futuristic monolith preaching the word of a brand new god. But hidden away, buried in the heart of modernity, the holy word still nestled. Perhaps modernity can never truly eradicate tradition?
In the Tabernacle vestry there was what can only be described as a unique performance by choreographer Jonathan Burrows and composer Matteo Fargion entitled Body Not Fit for Purpose. It was a half-hour piece consisting of Burrows performing various hand-based choreographic forms accompanied by Fargion on the mandolin. It’s hard to describe, but the closest I can get is like that old 1970s children’s series Fingerbobs put to the soundtrack of Gabriel the toad from Bagpuss. That’s an obscure description, I know, but then the piece itself defies categorisation.
It was overtly political in that it basically represents the futility of trying to use the art of dance to express anything of real concern or weight. Politics is such a dense and complex topic; can it really be represented by choreography? The duo performed various dances, some representing Silvio Berlusconi or Vladimir Putin or George W Bush, others the fear of immigration, or bank bailouts. The ridiculousness of each “dance” proves the point that politics is undefinable through dance, but then the fact choreographers continue to valiantly persevere anyway proves that dance is also magnificently radical and rebellious. Bankers!
A literally breath-taking hike up the Happy Valley to the Elephant Cave on the Great Orme may have been exhausting, but it was worth it to see Guillermo Weickert and Maria Cabeza de Vaca’s Cave Memory. Based upon the ancient history of the Great Orme and its prehistoric foundations, it saw Maria dressed in a gold lamé jumpsuit move ethereally around the stunning setting of the cave, while in the lush evergreen background of the forest, a fur-coated Guillermo bobbed in and out of view, edging ever nearer to the golden figure.
Divina De Campo
It was hard not to see the gold faceless figure as Star Wars’ C-3PO, especially when a disco glitterball was introduced and the metaphor automatically turns it into R2-D2! This comparison isn’t as crass as you might think, though – the gold figure surely represented modern man and technology, and as the dance progressed, we saw the gold figure envelop the hairy, primitive creature until the two swapped roles. The ancient creature became golden, while the shining future procured the fur coat, a cross-pollination of ancient and modern.
You couldn’t help but have fun at Llawn03, and hopefully it will just get bigger and better every year as an arts festival. It does for Llandudno what the Fringe does for Edinburgh, albeit on a much smaller scale. At least, for the time being…
Main image: Babs and Stella’s Intergalactic Spectacular by Kitsch ‘n’ Sync and Alex Marshall-Parsons
You can read a more detailed review of each of the three days of Llawn03 at Steve’s blog at stevestratfordreviews.blogspot.co.uk