Fantastic concept, beautiful textile art shown in an altogether amazing setting, sadly let down by the logistics. Nevertheless, we had a fascinating (if rather short) evening.
We live in an area renowned for its textile heritage and I'm the first to admit that I don't take as much advantage of this as I ought to do. The Textile Festival is running right now though, and upon hearing about the "Textiles in Performance" from our good friend, Anne Rogers, we immediately got tickets and looked forward to....we had no idea! Anne's one of the artists involved in the show, so I knew there would be felt in there somewhere. Added to which we've long thought there was a call for something along the lines of WOW in the UK and whereas it was clearly not going to be anything so huge, perhaps there might be a flavour of that in there somewhere.
Apart from instruction to arrive promptly for a timed shuttle departure from the car park to the remote and partly derelict Woodchester Mansion, we knew nothing more. Details were pretty thin on the ground and perhaps, with that wonderful skill of hindsight, the organisers might reconsider the information to send along with the tickets - after all, audience members can't toe the line if none has been drawn! As it was, our group was HUGE (about 75); as a result there were parts of the show which we didn't/couldn't see and the dancers had trouble negotiating the crowds.
Each (small!) room was set simply for one of a number of linked dance scenes and the architectural framework of the uncompleted building provided a stunning backdrop for some magnificent textiles. The chair in the background behind all that scaffolding is actually made from human hair - intriguing, but like so many other small details, easy to overlook.
The atmospheric and ethereal soundtrack was key to the success of creating an intimate and intriguing fantasy - if only there were not the huge number of people crammed into each set, stepping on each others toes and jockeying for the best position. People who couldn't actually squeeze into the room stood around chatting - creating a less-than-welcome disraction for the lucky few who could.
I'll say now that, though I was glad to be able to take photographs, I think it would have been wise to request no photography.
Constant flashes, clicks and whirring didn't help maintain the concentration, and must have been distracting for the performers. In addition, the chap who I assume to be the "official" photographer/cameraman had a little higher profile than I would have thought necessary!
All of which sounds carping, which is unfair, for this was a brave and technically demanding show. Textile artists are seldom required to create works of art that withstand the rigours of real life and creating costumes for dancers enabling quick changes and free movement is a challenge - I was particularly sorry that my favourite piece in the show, Anne's blouse with felted neckline and cuffs, with matching cummerbund, was not shown to best advantage due to the lack of time to do all the buttons up! Nevertheless, it was a beautiful piece of work which stole the show as far as I was concerned.
If only I could return to watch the rehearsal, alone in the room to take full advantage of all the small details, the little nooks and crannies full of witty and intriguing items which were crowded out of every scene. I'd love to see the interaction of the dancers across the room - impossible because of all the people in between them, and most of all, I'd like very much to go back and have a closer look at some of those wondrous creations they were wearing.
Having reached the end of the performance, we found ourselves in a room with far too many people standing cheek by jowl with glasses of wine. One exit...via the same route as the incoming groups...and sad to say, having had the briefest of words with Anne, to congratulate her on such amazing work, we took the opportunity of a swift exit before the next crowd was shepherded in.
On the way home, we chatted about how our experience could have been improved. Clearly, fewer people in the audience would have helped. But, it would seem that the demands of the Arts Council, who supplied funding, specified high audience numbers. Perhaps the timed entry wasn't controlled as efficiently as it might have been, for we suspected that the cool evening breeze was a factor in propelling everyone indoors as quickly as possible. On a warmer summer evening, maybe we would have enjoyed a longer linger with a glass in hand. As it was, we were on our way home around 8pm and though we didn't quibble at the £25 ticket price, we didn't really feel we had value for money.
We would have appreciated the freedom to wander at our own pace, watching and viewing the small sideshows, rather than being coralled as a herd. It seemed as though that as the dance scenes were ongoing, the route was clearly marked with a red ribbon and the elegantly dressed stewards were able to keep everyone on the right track, this would not have been difficult. Being better informed as to what to expect would have helped all concerned, I think - and future performances will surely benefit from the challenges of last evening's premiere.
We wouldn't have missed it for the world, though. We are so fortunate to be able to enjoy such an inspired event in magnificent surroundings. The concept was remarkable and I hope the designers will feel encouraged to go on and create similarly exciting ventures. I would like to see the show again in a different setting - the next is planned for the Fresh Air event at Quenington, next month - another wondrous location.