Photo: Michel Nicolas

Currency festival-anything but common

If you are making your way along the Euston Road from the west, on your way to The Place, you might be distracted by the extraordinary spectacle of four caryatids, staring in epic if vacant fashion out from the side of a church (St Pancras New Church, if you were wondering). Given what happens at The Place, one of the pre-eminent dance venues in London, and just round the corner, well might such well-behaved Grecian ladies look determinedly away. Maybe they have been turned to stone in shock.

Fortunately, the rest of us can stride confidently on and go to enjoy what The Place offers: and in the first half of November this will be an eye-catching festival called Currency. This is a madly imaginative sequence of dance, dance-based and related events. There will be food-based action; and, continuing the alliterative approach to planning, some fetish business to boot.

This is a thoroughgoing piece of European co-operation, of which more later, and is the result of collaboration between The Place and Crying Out Loud, a company devoted to creative production of, amongst many other things, visual theatre. It is the second such collaboration, fired up to do it again after the success of the 2013 festival.

The eclecticism that will be on show is broad even by the standards of similar projects. The four main elements (one for each caryatid, maybe) are double-bill performances in the theatre, ‘Blind Dates’ between different artists, free talks and an interactive pop-up café.

That all this is happening at all is down to some specific public funding: by the European Commission Representation in the UK, along with EUNIC London (the network of London-based cultural institutes of EU member states) and the Institut Francais du Royaume-Uni.

“Freedom of movement is a core tenet of the EU and the participants in Currency take it literally – and not just in coming here from all over the EU. We are proud to support this exchange, showing once again that the EU is a cultural entity as much as an economic one.”
Jacqueline Minor, Head of the European Commission Representation in the UK.

This support for artistic endeavour is good to see when directed away from established, dare I say establishment, happenings, towards the more daring. It is an important investment in (and venture into) the more experimental landscape of performance and art. There is a clearly a body of cultural figures, international and based in London, who want to see their hard-won budgets used imaginatively; which will mean used riskily too, and who else but public funders can do that?

“Looking at this year’s excellent programme, I am thrilled yet again that EUNIC London, The Place and Crying Out Loud are partnering to produce such a unique event. The language of movement is a universal one and each piece from the Currency festival explores it differently but always with bold wonderful creative energy.”
Tereza Porybna President EUNIC London and the Director of the Czech Centre.

On four nights there are double bill performances, each played twice. Clement Dazin will give a solo performance that melds contemporary dance with hip hop and juggling, Bruit de couloir. A kind of inverted synesthesia? In Dig My Jockey: Anna Maria Hakkinen and Jarkko Partenen engage in some serious (and not so serious) horse-play.

The second theatre night sees a carnivalesque blur of circus, dance and song from Cridacompany in Manana es manana; and Antiwords, a take on Havel’s Audience and the (in)famous tale of an actor in the original film version downing nine pints of beer to be in character.

Another Spanish artist features in the third theatre performance, Sonia Sanchez in El Pliegue. Here the traditional language of flamenco pushed to the utmost, offering ‘to create a new furious and passionate dance language.’ An equal vigour, though a different musical style (live rock) will characterise Skin Me, by Hungarian performers Danyi, Molnar and Vadas.

Closing the festival is a pairing whose offering I can do no better than describe in quotation marks, i.e. quoting their own material:

‘Using an original combination of object manipulation and hand-balancing Julia Christ explores the body as a receptacle of memories in Se perdre fait partie du jeu. Agata Maszkiewicz’s Polska is a shockingly subversive way to explore the sympathy and empathy divide.’

I think the only way to find out what that will look like will be to go and look.

The international flavour is thus very obvious: artists are coming from France, Spain, Germany, the UK, Finland, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

If those are the ‘main events’, then an intertwined pattern of other things fills out the day from 4pm imaginatively pell-mell. There are ‘Currency Conversations’, free talks which will address themes such as how to sell your (performing arts) work on the continent, the relationship (and blurring boundaries) between dance, theatre and circus, European and international arts funding, and the effects of cultural exchange on actual artistic practice. These are a gratifying mix of art and practicality, probably a very beneficial side-effect of the close involvement of the European funders in the project.

Conversation will be less prosaic in the other elements of each day. There is Hunt and Darton’s pop-up café, an interactive performance event in The Place’s café, complete with fruit and veg costume. This is insouciantly but very enticingly described as ‘playful and frankly inexplicable’.

Then there are the Blind Dates. A variety of UK-based artists are thrown together, in each a choreographer and a circus artist, and given a brief period in the studio to come up with something to perform. This is definitely not what Cilla was doing; but we should expect the results to be as entertaining as they might be challenging. Rachel Clare, Crying Out Loud’s Artistic Director describes the participants as ‘unflinching’, which promises some real dance dialectic.

It is obvious that a great deal of daring, imagination and trust have gone into this festival: from all sides, including the funders. Eddie Nixon, Director of The Place, captures this when he said:

“Our Currency festival is all about connecting people – artists from Europe to audiences in London, circus artists with choreographers, and creative producers with cultural ambassadors. This is going to be a programme full of provoking performances and each night will throw up some surprising angles and ideas.”

Angles thrown up – literally and metaphorically, no doubt.

Andrew Hammond published on Europe in the UK