Feature: Garden Parties and Park Living

Tuesday 23 June 2015 by Donald Hutera

Lilia Pegado & Donald Hutera in the 'sunken garden'.

Last year Chelsea Arts Collective (CAC) launched itself with five nights of dance-based pop-up performances staged in St. Luke’s Church Hall. Among the key attributes of each evening were eclecticism, unpredictability and fun. This summer the grassroots entity, co-founded by veteran free-lance dance/theatre journalist turned curator/creative producer Donald Hutera and the visual artist and thinker Lilia Pegado, is stepping outdoors thanks to a commission from the InTRANSIT Festival.

Happening on Sunday, June 28 from 3pm, Paradise on Earth: Give and Take is a free-wheeling (and free) multi-disciplinary, multi-generational piece of interactive street theatre created in response to the 2015 festival theme ‘Utopias and Realities.’ Conceived as a kind of semi-spontaneous performance garden party, it will occur on and around a sunken garden on Sutton Estate, a 100+ year-old housing association now known as Affinity Sutton (Cale Street, SW3). The estate has of late received both opposition and support because of proposed redevelopment plans. But, as Hutera stresses, the purpose behind his and Pegado’s project is unity rather than division and pleasure above politics.

“Although our event might be inspired by the redevelopment,” he says, “it’s not about the redevelopment. In the bigger picture Lilia and I know that art and entertainment can bring people together, and the last thing we’d want to do is stir up discontent or even to take sides. I spent a couple of Saturday mornings on the estate going door-to-door with a few performers who’ll be involved in the production, personally inviting residents to the event. It was pretty rudimentary research, but extremely useful and fascinating too. What was apparent to me from these brief, doorstep encounters was that some residents are firmly in favour of redevelopment, others against it, and then there were those who are still sitting on the fence. Fair enough. But I had another agenda as I stood on the threshold of the Sutton tenants’ homes, which was to enquire what each person’s idea of paradise on earth might be. Some of their responses will be incorporated into the performance.”

“For Lilia and me, paradise on earth is connected with the idea of happiness, contentment or whatever you might want to call it being eminently possible while we’re alive; it’s very much related to savouring every second. So it could be that, whether boldly or modestly or both, our performance will foster at least some awareness that we can view ourselves, each other and whatever situation or condition we’re in from another angle, and always try to value the present moment.”

Pegado has her own way of expressing the intentions behind Paradise on Earth. As she explains, “A line is made of dots, each one representing the here and now. Donald and I share the same understanding of the dot. To bring the awareness of the dot to people’s linear mode of living is imperative.’ To that end, she says, Chelsea Arts Collective’s performance will be ‘a series of events, tiny and brief, that will somehow promote a flux of oxygenated blood to people’s brains through enchantment. But will we achieve it? Perhaps not to the extent we would love. But I have no doubt whatsoever that people will remember it with a smile.”

Hutera has been curating GOlive Dance and Performance Festival since autumn 2013, based at the Giant Olive Theatre in Kentish Town’s Lion and The Unicorn pub. (The most recent edition of GOlive concluded earlier this month.) Much of the cast of Paradise on Earth is drawn from the pool of artists whose work he’s helped to develop and has presented there or via Chelsea Arts Collective. At press time the roster includes the dance companies Corali and Counterpoint, Rebecca Evans (Pell Ensemble), Susan Kempster, Mara Vivas, Hanna Wroblewski, Alice Labant, My Johansson, Gloria Sanvicente Amor, Kali Chandrasegaram, the musician and actress (and associate artist of Little Bulb Theatre) Miriam Gould as well as independent choreographer-dancer Rhiannon Faith and, flying in from Italy, singer and model Gianni Rocchetta. “It’s a gratifyingly good line-up of talent,” Hutera enthuses, “with lots of possibilities for surprise and engagement.”

Operating under the CAC imprimatur, a handful of the same groups or individuals appearing in Paradise on Earth will also bring music, dance and film to another InTRANSIT event. Held in the gorgeous Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre at the V&A from 3pm on June 27, An Other World is an immersive performance ‘conference’ spearheaded by the conceptual politician Giuseppe Marinetti (the alter ego of the actor and sonic artist Joseph Young) and featuring artists from two other festival commissions.

Paradise on Earth isn’t the only site-specific, interactive InTRANSIT show with a dance slant. Designed for outdoor and garden spaces, Parklife (5pm on June 27 and 28 in Cremorne Gardens) is inspired by the actions of park users, and the layouts and natural content of parks themselves. Lasting about 60 minutes, this work by Mari Frogner’s Nutshell Dance takes a playful, exploratory look at what we get up to in the outdoors and involves the audience in as much or as little as they choose. The piece uses three professional dancers and up to 36 community performers and, in addition to the live performance, entails the creation of a short film to be distributed online.

“I’ve been wanting to make this work for a long time,” says Frogner. “We took the company to Berlin to perform People InTransit a few years ago, and because we were performing outdoors we did warm-ups and class in a local park. That sparked the idea. Since then I’ve often had part of my processes for making work happening outside in parks, so it felt appropriate to be more explicit about this and make parks the creative stimulus. I’m very attached to green spaces and being outdoors, so it’s felt natural to place that in a work. I also love to make work that can be happened upon, and it seems to me that people in parks have time to stop and watch something.”

Asked for specifics about what Parklife might contain, Frogner replies, “We’ve got a picnic, and some birds, and there will be tea and wine. Besides that I don’t want to say too much.’ But, she adds more than a touch poetically, ‘it will smell like elderflowers and sun-kissed skin, taste like cucumber sandwiches and feel like running your fingers through grass.”

Paradise on Earth: Give and Take
Where: Sunken Garden, Sutton Estate, Cale and Elystan Streets, SW3
When: Sunday 28 June | 3pm | approx. 90 minute performance
Tickets: Free | No booking required

An Other World
Where: The Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre, Victoria & Albert Museum, SW7
When: Saturday 27 June | 3pm to 4.30pm
Tickets: Booking Required | Tickets £7

Parklife
Where: Cremorne Gardens, Lots Road, SW10
When: Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 June | 5pm | 60 minute performance
Tickets: Booking required | £4.50 full price | £2.50 concessions

Find out more about InTRANSIT Festival 2015 and Sutton Estate, Chelsea

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