Saturday, January 26, 2013

'LUPA 15' behind James Campbell House, 25th January 2013

Mirei Yazawa and Marius Hermansen.
It was with a heavy heart that I missed December's LUPA I'm acutely aware that there are a finite amount of these things, something underlined by last night.  It was freezingly cold, the kind of temperature that chills so much it hurts.  You'd think it'd be difficult to corral crowds to a nondescript garage in Bethnal Green on a night like this, but apparently word has spread far and wide about how fun LUPA is, and it was packed by numbers few other nights of this type can muster.  This creates a bit of a problem: if there's too many people there it's difficult for everyone to get a good view of what's going on.  The performances are usually so interesting that people huddle forwards to get the best picture, creating a bit of a crush.  If you want a decent view of what's going on, you either have to get lucky or fight your way to the front.  Perhaps LUPA is beginning to become a slight victim of its popularity.

But anyway, I'm not here to talk about crowd control, I'm here to talk about the performances.  First up was the team of Mirei Yazawa, Marius Hermansen, Oda Edjar Starheim and Øystein Monsen.  Their piece took the form of a kind of loosely narrative interpretive dance.  Yazawa, dressed entirely in white, kneeled on the floor and placed her head inside a large unfired clay urn.  One of the team (I'm not sure who) moved around her, massaging her outsize clay head until her features were gradually exposed.  When she was freed of her clay prison she rolled around on the ground for a bit as her partner smeared the remnants of the urn onto his head, eventually dancing with each other.  Throughout this, a frankly sick as all hell soundtrack was provided by Oda Edjar Starheim singing softly, remixed by Øystein Monsen with a Kaoss pad into a spooky but remarkably danceable song.

It was a quintessential LUPA performance, overtly strange, with no obvious meaning but ripe for interpretation.  The relationship between Yagawa and her partner seemed irresistibly like that between creation and creator.  The first thing that sprang to mind was the relationship between Dr Frankenstein and his monster: the dance developed a nicely antagonistic tone as it progressed.  But, thinking a bit more literally about things, this was the birthing of a woman from clay.  The creation of humanity from clay is something found in most of the world's major faiths, extinct and current.  Perhaps the most compelling example is the story of Pandora, so this could be viewed as an inverting of an inherently misogynist bit of mythology.  The flavour of these universal myths added a nice layer of gravitas to a very enjoyable performance.

Next up was a short comedic song by John Walter.  He came out dressed in a green onesie with bobbles stuck over the outside of it.  The song concerned someone called Hilary Devey, one of the Dragons on the TV show 'Dragon's Den'.  I'd never heard of her before, but I have seen a load of parodies of the show so I guess she's one of the rude rich people the contestants show their inventions to.  

John Walter
Something about this rubbed me the wrong way.  Not because I didn't know the person he was singing about, not because the song was overtly filthy, but because it felt a little too calculatedly weird and 'monkey cheese' random for my liking.  The difference between a piece that's effortlessly strange and one that wants to be strange is difficult to define.  But as they say, "I know it when I see it".  Dressing up in a weird costume and singing a song about how you'd like to cum on a reality TV star's tits reeks of being desperate to shock without actually having anything to say.  

Moving swiftly on, the next performance by Selina O started brilliantly.  We gathered around a group of singers in pastel hoodies, and Selina instructed us to all whisper the backing vocals to Soul II Soul's 1989 single 'Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)'.  Hearing the entire crowd whispering "back to life back to reality" over and over again created an eerie cultish atmosphere.  I was really getting into it a few minutes in and could have gone on all night.  Embarrassingly, I was enjoying myself whispering in unison so much that I wasn't paying attention to the actual performers, so I'm not entirely sure what happened.  

Selina O and her singers
I'd been expecting an a cappella rendition of the entire song, maybe with some neat vocal emulation of instruments.  Sadly this wasn't to be, what we got instead were some abstract vocal sounds made over our chanting.  Now, I know that you write about what you have seen and not what you wanted to see, but even so I was a little disappointed that this didn't seem to go anywhere, eventually fizzling out a bit when Selina O told us that the performance was over.  I had a great time whispering along to late 80s R&B though.  

After this, Nadia Berri blew up a big red balloon that eventually went "BANG".  Sometimes simplicity is best.  It started as about beach ball size within the LUPA garage, and grew bigger and bigger until it was bulging out of the front.  The tension in waiting for it to pop, or wondering if it was going to pop was ridiculous.  I didn't want to take my eye off it in case I missed the explosion.  At one point someone hid behind me, hoping I'd shield them from whatever catastrophe was surely about to occur.  When it actually did pop it was a little bit of  an anticlimax.  I'm not sure what this was supposed to mean (if anything), but sometimes the emotion and tension you feel watching something as simple as a balloon expanding beyond all reasonable boundaries is good enough on its own.  


The final performance was by Adam James and friends.  They trooped out a garage in rags with disturbing melted burn victim masks on, some of them with deformed fake hands and outsized monster feet.  As they lined up in a semi-circle, four beers were placed in front of them as well as shots of vodka.  A weird thundery cylinder was twirled, apparently being the signal for them to start frantically quaffing their drinks while stripping to their underwear.  I should repeat at this point that it was desperately freezing. I don't envy anyone who has to stand around in their knickers on night this cold.  Towards the end, the cylinder was twirled, apparently functioning as a signal to stop.  Then, a hairy man in the centre of the semi-circle drunkenly sang his way through an off-key rendition of 'Amazing Grace', sounding a little bit like the dying HAL in '2001: A Space Odyssey'.  

The rendition may have shaky, shivery and punctuated with the odd burp here and there but it was surprisingly moving, especially so when on the last verse everyone spontaneously joined in.  These are the kinds of moments that only LUPA seems to be able to provide; an unprompted demonstration of where our group sympathies lie.  Sometimes its easy to take this sort of thing for granted; like a frog in a slowly heating pot of water you become accustomed to the weird.  This performance was bizarre enough to let this mask slip for a moment, what on earth must this look like from the outside?  A hundred or so people singing a hymn while a bunch of drunken deformed freaks shiver amongst a pile of rags and discarded half drunk beers - pretty damn odd I'd imagine  Regardless I enjoy being on the inside looking out rather than on the outside looking in.

I was very glad when it ended, not because I didn't enjoy the hell out of it, but because I couldn't feel my extremities (usually a bad sign).  Plus, I felt really sorry for one of the performers who'd had to stand in her underwear for the entire song.  She was shivering and shaking like she'd been plugged into the mains.  A pretty damn great LUPA, although I'm pining for some warmer weather for the next one.

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3 Responses to “'LUPA 15' behind James Campbell House, 25th January 2013”

Anonymous said...
January 27, 2013 at 3:59 PM

Such FUN - as the off-key singer!!

Unknown said...
January 27, 2013 at 5:01 PM

The guy whose name you do not know is Marius Hermansen!

londoncitynights said...
January 27, 2013 at 8:40 PM

Thanks for the heads up!

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