Introducing manipulate, Scotland’s annual festival of visual theatre
Gareth K Vile, manipulate’s critic in residence and The List's Theatre Editor, tells us about what 2015’s festival has to offer
This article is from 2015.
Manipulate’s vision to raise the profile and appreciation of visual theatre within Scotland extends beyond the stage: for the third year, I am taking up the position of ‘critic in residence’, responsible for engaging in the wider discussion of the festival’s performances and artists. Having presented lectures and been part of post-show discussions, this year I am leading a group of critics in creating responses to the events of the week.
Manipulate’s remit – a celebration of visual theatre – manages to focus on specific strands of performance without limiting its range. Having consistently supported local artists and brought international recognised companies to Scotland, it acts as a survey of local visual theatre and an opportunity to see masters at work.
This year’s programme can be roughly divided into four themes: the popular late night animation sessions, aerial dance theatre, puppetry and physical theatre. While individual pieces may fit into several categories – the films of Robert Morgan, for example, feature top stop puppetry – these themes reflect the breadth of visual theatre’s interests, and mark the shared characteristics of these diverse styles.
Dance and choreography is an important presence in manipulate 2015: All or Nothing Aerial Dance Theatre includes Tony Mills in the cast, a man best known for his contemporary hip hop work, while The Dance of the Magnetic Ballerina promises to re-imagine the way that dance can be experienced. Ramesh Meyyappan, a performer who seems intent on becoming an encyclopedia of physical theatre approaches, uses puppetry to get at the heart of the operatic story of Madame Butterfly in Butterfly. Yet the programme is not content to offer dance that is regularly available in theatres in Scotland: each of these shows are discovering new ways to play.
The ethos that appears throughout Simon Hart’s artistic direction of manipulate is one that refuses the mundane, recognises the importance of experimentation and is thoroughly accessible. It is cutting edge, but fun, and Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre is transformed into a lively hub where physical possibilities are performed and discussed.
Although I pretend that criticism is a glamorous and demanding vocation, manipulate’s critics programme is concerned with making it accessible, and encouraging a diverse range of replies to visual theatre. Previous groups have made podcasts as well as written more traditional reviews. The course is free of charge, and includes a couple of tickets to the shows (in exchange for a commitment to conversation and some writing for the blog).
With the range of events on offer, and the guidance of my idiosyncratic and inclusive approach to arts writing, this strand of manipulate is an example of how the festival is looking beyond the usual outlets and supporting both the making of and writing about challenging performance.
manipulate takes place at Traverse and Summerhall, Edinburgh; Lemon Tree, Aberdeen and Norwich Puppet Theatre, Norwich Fri 30 Jan – Sat 7 Feb.