Review: Eddie Ladd & Judith Roberts - Gaza/Blaenannerch - The Place

Performance: 24 October 2012
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Thursday 25 October 2012

Performer Eddie Ladd and director Judith Roberts begin their piece Gaza/Blaenannerch by literally crossing paths. They greet each other in Welsh with warm smiles as they criss-cross the space to take their respective opening positions. Ladd gazes upstage into the blank cinematic landscape of a blue-green screen as though regarding infinite imagistic possibilities. Roberts, seated in the downstage left corner facing the action throughout like a kind of conversant prompter, begins in soft tones to describe the scene Ladd might be surveying. As the title suggests, we will come to know the terrain Gaza/Blaenannerch invokes in our imaginations, as at least two different countries; Palestine and Wales simply put, but an intractable and sinister fairy tale land also seems to emerge through the interrogation of these two paralleled worlds.

A less poised treatment of this type of subject would probably read as preachy polemic or even worse, as airy fairy ‘interpretative’ tosh, but Ladd is a performer of uncommon presence and both her bodily and intellectual explorations were intelligently heartfelt and genuinely engaging. Physically she posses the tiniest of frames, as petite as a child; but her tight sinewy and veiny muscles strained fiercely and her mouth gaped in a rictus of adult agony, as she twisted through elongated paroxysms of arrhythmic Butoh-esque choreography. The movement was created by Ladd herself and collaborator Cai Tomos. Her delivery of a nuanced and often complexly historiographical text, spoken alternately in Welsh and English, was relaxed, crisp and compelling. And despite the rich density of the material, Roberts paced and edited in such a way as to allow Ladd time to breathe and exist before us, both a human witness and a living symbol of the history lesson she was illustrating.

At the start of the piece a row of stones were lined up in descending sizes along the right side of the playing area. Like moveable vertebrae in a kind of nationalistic backbone, their order was soon dismantled by Ladd. She lugged them into a scattered topography, scooted them around and stacked them on top of each other, cobbling together a figurative map of the contested regions she and Roberts evoked otherwise with words. In one sequence she balanced
precariously for long tremulous moments on a pile of the rocks, and in another she held a flat stone in the palm of each hand; rotating in slow motion, she cycled through images of Moses coming down from the mountain with the tablets of commandments, a crucifix, and the balancing scales of the blind Lady Justice.

There was a lot to learn from this work, which dived headlong and in depth into subjects as wide ranging and unexpectedly interconnected as the Israel/Palestinian conflict, Welsh Nationalism, Zionism and chemistry, but we were never pummelled with the didactic aspect. Despite a fairly clear sympathy with the Palestinian side of that tragic encounter, the piece was pitched more as a pondering question than an imperative. Research as performance is a hard spot to hit, but Gaza/Blaenannerch is as much dark enchantment as it is topical or political project, as personally searching and honest as it is sharply observed.

Touring Wales until 9 November. Dates/details:

*Jeffrey Gordon Baker*J is a transplanted New Yorker living in London; an artist and writer who has studied art, performance and aesthetics at New York University, Central St Martins and Birkbeck College.

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