Review: Alexandra Baybutt & Dávid Somló - The Space Is In Between Us - Theatre Delicatessen

Performance: 5 -29 November 2014
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Friday 21 November 2014

'The Space Is In Between Us'

There’s nothing very inspirational about the interior of the empty office shells that used to house the Guardian newspaper’s staff in Farringdon Road. They are bog standard, open-plan, identikit offices with neutral panelled carpeting and strip lighting. But what impressions are left behind from the battalion of writers, subeditors, editors, production staff, and reporters – the nitty gritty work force of a national newspaper? Dance and movement artist Alexandra Baybutt and musician/composer Dávid Somló explore the imprint left behind and react to the audience in an immersive, site-specific show The Space Is In Between Us.

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When myself and three other intrepid ‘spectators’ arrive at the performance space, which is one of many in the huge building currently run by Theatre Delicatessen, we’re given clear instructions on a sheet of paper. These include removing shoes, entering the empty room and building a unique performance space with furniture and household objects that have been donated to Baybutt and Somló. It soon becomes clear that the audience (of up to 25 per performance) are active players in this show, and responsible for constructing half of it. After stacking and re-arranging the objects, we’re allowed to move around the space in silence, or sit while Baybutt improvises and Somló responds on his guitar.

If you want to be a passive spectator, this is the wrong show for you. It really interrogates the role of the spectator as much as it does the impact that buildings have on our quotidian lives. Making decisions about where to position a coat-stand, a chair, or a plant is difficult but focusses me on what might have happened in these empty offices – the comraderies, fights, affairs, power struggles, promotions – the responsibility of disseminating global affairs. The other audience participants seem to be imagining the same, concentrated and purposeful in their placing of the selected items, observed by the two performers.

When Baybutt starts to dance around the installations, she traces images around the material objects with non-literal gestures and abstract movements but also interacts with whatever resonates with her from the past (or present). Somló layers sound using his electric guitar in unconventional ways: extracting noise from it by dragging it across the carpet, or tapping it on a chair. Wandering around the space, he feeds off whatever he encounters, a person, an object or Baybutt’s improvisations. Effortlessly in synch with each other, they bring both a reassuring and energising force to this work. Their strength lies in how they manage to direct whatever might happen in the space and for every night it will be different.

Being immersed in this experimental work is an intense experience and at times hard work. As members of an intimate audience, we observe and are observed, there’s no place to hide or simply spectate. We feel the responsibility of charging the space along with the performers and sometimes I struggle to keep engaged as waves of tiredness or the cold interrupt my concentration. But the experience is also invigorating and the questions it poses are exciting: as a performing audience member what are the limits of my participation? Can I dance too, can I go to sleep? How often as a dance or theatre spectator do you have such choices as well as the opportunity to engage with the history of a building?

Continues Mon – Sat until 29 Nov, 7.30pm
Theatre Delicatessen (Guardian House)

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

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