Feature: Scientific fact meets fictional friction

Sunday 18 September 2016 by Donald Hutera

SCARABEUS AERIAL THEATRE - Antonio Harris in 'Depths of my Mind'.  Photo: Mark Morreau

The teen years are commonly deemed to be as confusing on the inside as they seem perplexing from the outside. This fascinating and complex subject matter was the central impetus for the creation of Depths of My Mind by Scarabeus Aerial Theatre in partnership with Wimbledon’s Polka Theatre. The premiere takes place at the BRIT School, Croydon on 23 September 23 (running until 2 October) under the umbrella of the Polka’s first-ever science-meets-theatre festival, Brain Waves.
Donald Hutera reports…

An intimate and layered spectacle, audience members – maximum of 90 – are invited to immerse themselves to track a handful characters, embodied with exemplary physical skill and dramatic commitment and performed by Antonio Harris, Hauk Pattison, Rachel Ni Bhraonain and Willow Vidal-Hall. The characters’ individual facets and entwined relationships are gradually revealed in a setting dominated by four suspended transparent platforms which move vertically and horizontally so that at certain times they’re below eye level and at others above. When tipped onto their side, the platforms function like a mirror.

“The platforms are movable to reflect the instability of teenagers’ lives,” says the company’s Artistic Director, Daniela Essart. “And because they are see-through, it means the audience can gaze at the performers and vice versa.”

The narrative is complemented by slide projections and animations by video designer Mark Morreau that were partly inspired by current developments in neuro-imagery. The engaging visuals, like the movement finessed by choreographer Lindsey Butcher, are further enhanced by a soundtrack that includes classics from Nirvana, Radiohead, Tracy Chapman and Patti Smith.

The production’s theoretical foundation is the findings of the U-Change Project, a five-year study spearheaded by scientists from the Neuroscience in Psychiatry Network (NSPN) at Cambridge University. Experts involved in the project are keen to understand how brain structure and brain connections alter during a critical period when young people – 300 of them, aged 14 to 24 – discover new behaviours, including risk-taking and decision-making processes.

Using this research as a springboard, Depths of My Mind was co-directed by Daniela Essart, and Peter Glanville, head of the Polka Theatre.

“The teenage brain is full of synaptic connections,” continues Essart. “And their hearts and minds full of mood swings. Aerial work expresses very well this emotional and intellectual rollercoaster; it can be a lift from the ordinary into the extraordinary. I’m also interested in what aerial work provokes in the audience.”

Asked to describe herself as a teenager growing up in conservative, small-town Italy, Essart admits she was angry and rebellious while at the same time feeling ‘the world was my oyster.’ She and her colleagues at Scarabeus are only moved to create ‘when we have something to say and the urge becomes so strong that we make it public via our performances.’ With Depths of My Mind it seems plain that the urge has been, and will remain, strong.

Watch an extract of Depths of My Mind and an interview with Director Daniela Essart

The Brit School, 60 The Crescent, Croydon CR0 2HN
23 – 25, 30 Sept, 1 & 2 Oct (£13, £10 concessions)
Book tickets via Polka Theatre, Wimbeldon
Presented by Polka Theatre as part of Brainwaves Festival

Donald Hutera writes regularly about dance, theatre circus and the arts for The Times of London and many other publications and websites. A dramaturg and performance-maker himself, he is also a co-founder of both the performance platform GOlive and Chelsea Arts Collective aka CAC.

This is an extract of a longer article, which will appear soon on www.scarabeus.co.uk

Photos: Mark Morreau

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