10 performances that did it for me in 2019

Here are 10 performances that have stuck with me this year. I had a difficult time narrowing things down to 10—I feel lucky to have seen a lot that impacted me. Lining these performances up, it seems I was impacted by strongly defined contexts that allowed live things to happen within them. Performances that felt light on top, but ran with a deep power underneath. Repetitive actions, movements, words that allowed multiple concurrent ways of seeing, hearing and approaching.

Listed in the order I saw them.

Ira Brand
Ways to Submit
The Yard, London as part of NOW 19 Festival
9 February

The premise is that Ira fights audience members.  In various ways the performance provoked a lot in people just by holding to its simple rules: 3 minute fights, you can tap out, no biting no scratching no eye-gouging no head-butting. I couldn’t stop talking about it immediately afterwards because of the vocal reactions of non-fighting audience members when a man pinned Ira early on. I’m still thinking about this performance’s interesting problems and possibilities, asking about its different versions with different fighters/audience members. I’d like to see it again.

Peter McMaster
A Sea of Troubles
The Yard, London as part of NOW 19 Festival
16 February

The main thing I remember from this performance was its vibe, its pitch, its frequency. It was made up of text—memory, traces, bits of seeming-autobiography—and unfurling moments of moving. As it sits now in my mind, it feels gentle on the surface, but with deep bass notes you can’t necessarily hear, you just feel. I found Peter to be a riveting performer.

Photo by Maurizio Martorana

Ursula Martinez
A Family Outing – 20 Years On
The Barbican, London
27 March

Ursula revisits a show originally performed with both her parents 20 years after first performing it. It had me laughing/crying/laughing. It was breezily moving, and the puzzle pieces fit together in ways that filled in answers to what had been questions 20 years before, but left space for the memories, the people and the time that were now missing.

Action Hero
Oh Europa
Transform Festival, Leeds
27 April

Action Hero have driven across Europe collecting love songs sung by its people. I experienced this project through a tour of the motorhome, a recounting of the journey and listening to some of the songs they recorded. It’s a beautifully done, expansive and human project.

Mónica Calle
Rehearsal for a Cartography
Secondary School Gymnasium, Montemor-o-Novo as part of the Portuguese Platform for Performing Arts
6 June

This is the performance I have described most to people this year, and so the repetition of that retelling has made it stick in my mind—not that the images needed any help to stick there. This piece had some of the most striking, simple imagery of bodies and light I have ever seen. A group of women ‘rehearse’ a single movement—a repetitive step and an arm raise—set to a rehearsal of the Bolero. It goes on the same way for a very long time. Each person puts on ballet shoes and takes turns having their moment—sometimes visibly painfully—en pointe. They play stringed instruments. You can tell they are not professional string players. It doesn’t sound polished, but neither is it a joke. It’s taken very seriously. There was a massive force in this performance—a focus, a devotion, a forging. Individual and collective effort, error and attempt. I had a truly special experience.

André Uerba
Burn Time
São Domingos Church, Montemor-o-Novo as part of the Portuguese Platform for Performing Arts
6 June

Forced Entertainment
Out of Order
Southbank Centre, London
12 October

Another one with interesting repetition. It astounds me how viscerally angry some people get over repetition in performance. Is it the insistence on being entertained in a certain way? An ingrained need to keep being shown something new? A psychological resistance to surrender to what the performance is doing? Whatever it is, a few people in the audience loudly walked out in the middle of it, visibly fuming. I loved it.

Mariana Valencia
MAC as part of Fierce Festival, Birmingham
19 October

Album looks and feels simple on the surface—an endearing collection of personal mini-stories, songs and actions by a magnetic artist. As she addresses within the performance, it runs much deeper through ideas of a life account, a record, parts and wholes, what lasts and how, who lasts and why. I loved the writing—specific, strange, unexpected, inviting and ticklish.

Miet Warlop
Ghost Writer and the Broken Hand Break
Birmingham Hippodrome as part of Fierce Festival
18 October


Frank Chickens
Chat’s Palace, London as part of Bad Fruit
20 December

I finally saw Frank Chickens last week and they were 👯‍♂️🇯🇵🙃. A true highlight.


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