“We shape shift into spaces and places, we react and adapt to ideas, we explore and investigate things that have yet no name.”
Artful Badger’s Wild Worlds synonymises immersive performance; the previously disused railway arch that The Vaults now occupies was given a new lease of life, and creates the perfect setting in which to experience this mesmerising show. With a thick, eerie layer of fog, mysterious lighting, and an enchanting choice of music the atmosphere is transformed into a magical environment where the audience are made to feel truly part of the action.
“Inclusivity and interactivity are our mantras.”
The plot is unconventionally ambiguous, adding to the air of mystery and excitement, and cleverly unravels throughout the performance. Exploring the trials and torment of love forms the core subject of Wild Worlds, however, Artful Badger subverts the typical love story, making this performance as far from a traditionally romantic fairy tale as you can imagine.
“We facilitate the viewer or participant to engage the wild and feral side of their own humanity.”
The larger-than-life characters express the burdens of love using quirky, energetic dancing and surreal props, fully engaging with the senses. From surprising the ears with loud clashes, roars and screams to dazzling the eyes with playful lighting design and murky visual effects, and even incorporating the damp smell of the underground vault, the performance interacts with the audience on many levels.
Photo credits: Aaron Davies
“We are many and all things that we dare to dream to be.”
On entering the Vault the viewer is made to feel that they are being taken on an adventure to a world far from the realms of ordinary, day-to-day life, where all emotions are freely and unapologetically expressed. Explosive outbursts are frequent and unexpected, maintaining a sense of the unknown throughout, captivating the senses and leaving you yearning to find out what will happen next. One thing is certain – this performance is not for the faint-hearted!
INTERVIEW: Zoë Cobb, Co-Founder of Artful Badger
We caught up with Zoë, Wild Worlds’ Director of Performance, recently to find out more about Artful Badger’s inspirations, their background and the stories behind their exciting work. The talented dancers from Artful Badger also featured in the launch video of our new SS16 collections, available through the Syndicut Kickstarter Campaign now! Read on to discover Zoë’s motivations, experiences and the inspiration behind Wild Worlds at The Vaults.
What inspires you to perform, dance and create?
“For a number of reasons. I have always loved inspiring people to see things in a different way. Taking them out of their daily existence and giving them a moment that they can experience something from a new perspective and even surprise themselves. The way I involved the audience in the performance of Wild Worlds:V is a way of taking them out of their own ridged identity of self and draw them into hopefully discovering sides of themselves they didn't know.”
In three words how would you describe your work?
“Paradoxical, non-linear, immersive.”
How did you come up with the concept for Wild Worlds? Is it based on experiences from real life or is it purely fictional?
“The concept for Wild Worlds was developed 3 years ago when we won a space in the theatre at The Vault Festival with a little grant from the former Ideas Tap. We had many performers in our company and a small amount of time to come up with 60 minutes of content. Like so many creations the format we came up with was based on the restrictions we were working under. We decided to make an episodical piece that was made up of 4 chapter like performances - hence Wild Worlds was born and is in its third year. This year for Wild Worlds:V we decided to work with LOVE as a theme, inspired from Dante's The Lovers. It is an extremely rich topic to pull experiences from and build content with the brilliant performers. Slightly relevant... The designer, Elia Conti, and I are getting married this year so the theme is also timely!
This year, due to financial restrictions, I had two weeks to bring the show together after I cast it. The time constraint brought a lot of focus and out of necessity it made me crystallise the creating process. I brought images, ideas and texts from my store house of things I love. Knowing the strengths of the performers, I could push certain ideas and offer material to suit them. When we were building the work, the performers brought a very rich full palate to offer from their own personal experiences. James Riordan wrote most of his own speeches and together we crafted the final text in rehearsal. His vivid imagination, sharp sense of humour and very full emotional life brought a lot of material. The first two protagonist lovers are extracted from a work that I started to develop in Canada with Jason Carnew 10 years ago. He went on to create a full beautiful play called One that has toured North America. Patricia Langa and Ale Marzotto are an incredibly strong duet and brought the lovers to life so beautifully. A lot of the movement material was built very quickly due to their history of working together. It was also their first time as dancers to work with text! That is a big step for movers. Bringing their voice into the work was a beautiful journey to join them on.
I love taking all kinds of content from things that me or the performers have encountered. What have we remembered from our journey through this world? What has travelled with us? Then it seems to arrive in the rehearsal room as a stream of consciousness. This cast was particularly fluid and magical together, so the creation process was so delightfully fluid.
The Bruce Lee quote "Take what is useful, discard what is useless and make it uniquely your own, " rings true when I am creating devised work. Collating the content feels like a metaphysical experiment guided by the intension. We play with all the collaborators subconscious all bouncing off one another and the lives around the rehearsals to see what comes into form. Then the ultimate test at the end is to see if the intension survived.
When presenting this type of work to the audience I love to give them space to enter into the work. As humans we are hungry to build links and create a narrative from almost anything. We seem to have a need to create story. If I present work that gives people enough structure to want to dig deeper, and ask questions that they find their own answers for, I am happy. I love exciting the audience to require an investment of their thoughts and understandings. I diverge...
The show is a mixture of personal understandings on love, dreams, pieces of inspired text and fabrics that I fell in love with.”
What inspired the sounds and lighting design in the Vaults?
“I love using local, hand held and specific lights on stage. More specifically I love it when the actors can control the lighting states. It gives the performers a power to create the magical suspension of disbelief that provides the capacity for story telling. It also a transforms space so beautifully. Candles, small lights in props, lamps, and spot lights are my favourite. The rest of the lighting was required to see the show ;)
Going into this show I knew I wanted a thick sound track. The atmosphere in the Vaults is so beautiful and encompassing, I wanted the sound to help pick up on that and take the audience on a real ride. Charlie Knight created a multi layered and complex sound scape in very little time. On a tight budget, it was very worth bringing him onto the project. He was a complete delight to work with.”
Is there a story behind the choice of props and costumes? For example, the red painted hands, the blue, parachute-like dress, and the bag of vegetables, mirrors and other objects.
“I work very intuitively and draw from images that come up as we are working or ones that have stayed with me over time. The red hands came from an image I saw and developed with Gabby Sellen's character in the red light at the back of the room. I chose Beckett's Not I for her to work on, knowing the controversy of working with Beckett, but she was just so strong with it, I couldn't resist. The red hands were something I just really imagined with Beckett's text. They hold a sense of being caught doing something, of play, of mystery and of inflicting pain. The image of the hands covering the face, in combination with the text felt scary, very dark, stimulating and curious.
When we brought the piece to the Vaults space, with all the lighting capacities, Gabby's scene evolved to having the red spotlight on her, which actually made the red hands obsolete. So we cut the paint for the scene. BUT I wanted the characters to be stained from the experience, to have a trail of their history. I love that there is an internal logic that is not totally apparent to the audience. Again this invites the audience to approach and start asking questions. The questioning takes them into themselves and then we can play with their experiences.
The blue dress was symbolically the sea, as well as her own despair and sense of loss and depression. It evoked a sense of being lost and swimming in the big cavernous emotional places that we sometimes find ourselves in: so full of our situation we sometimes can't see out and feel stuck. The loss of a loved one can bring us to that state.
The bag of vegetables and objects is a bag of daily objects. Things that we exist in with our loved ones on a daily basis. The routine, drills, rituals, that can drive is to distraction or create magic - depends how skilfully we build them... Maybe? The strange display of emotions that can so often be triggered by the little daily objects in life.”
Photo credit: The Vaults
How and where did Artful Badger first meet?
“As these things go, it was a combination of a number of events, Freddy Drabble asked his long-time family friend Charlotte Tiley to make some animal masks for some wild ecstatic dancers (including me) and drummers. Aoife Van Linden Tol and her sister were asked to do costumes from their notoriously beautiful collection of dresses. We congregated in the early days of Secret Garden Party. The tent was packed all weekend: Artful Badger was born.”
Where are you based now?
“We are an amorphous group, with the three of us directors based in London and Italy. The full community of performers are mostly European and we most often meet in London. The Company of Animals Productions is the performance branch of the company, different from the events that Aoife runs and the workshops that Freddy runs.”
How long have you been performers?
“It varies. 25 years personally. Aoife is a fine artist who is able to lend her hand to anything including performing and project management. Freddy has been in acting for years alongside his modelling career. I enjoy working with performers from all different disciplines and stages in their training. Sometimes people are new to performance, and I really like what that energy brings to a group.”
Have you always been interested in performing or did you study with a different path in mind?
“Well, I started in ballet and fell in love with performance and movement as a little 3 year old. I have studied nutrition and often fantasised about being a health practitioner. I also studied French, German and Spanish and fantasised about becoming a spy or a marine biologist or a diplomat. Recently, I started a company called RoundTable Global with 3 partners. It is an education and development company working to help create balance across all sectors. We work across the world in Tokyo, LA, Dubai and here in London. I get to work with all kinds of people, brining play and dance into their life again to remind them they have a body. This work is a very rich source of information and joy. Along with incredible business partners, RoundTable work is satisfying a lot of my other passions.”
How did you discover dance and performance? What initially encouraged or inspired you?
“My grandmother playing the piano and my cousin and I making up little dances. Mozart is, in fact, probably responsible. My Gran would put me to sleep at night and play Mozart on the piano during the day. I still remember how I felt, it was strong.”
Is your work a response to any particular issues or topics of interest to you? If so, how do you explore and express these through performance?
“Yes. Liberating the self from perceived constraints, widening the spectrum of what is possible and broadening our awareness. There is so much that we don't know, we don't know.
Specifically, I am drawn to understand connection in groups and how together, we bring the development of each other further. What do we share in presence of others? How can we open new personal possibilities from being around other people? I want to awaken, to shake, and even to forcibly move the audience. Like a lot of the immersive performance groups, it is a form of audience education where they have choices to step up and get brave with their curiosity and engagement.”
Please name one or two artists, performers, dancers or other creative individuals that have particularly inspired you, or changed the way you approach your work.
“Well, Mozart :) The combination of choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and composer Steve Reich, Laurie Anderson and her absolute freedom of what to bring to stage, Samuel Beckett (despite his anal retentive Beckett Police), the former circus group Les Arts Sauts with their magical involvement of the audience, Fuerza Bruta's sheer scale, Hofesh Shechter's strength and exploration.
There is a tiny little theatre company in Canada called Number 11 who picked me while I was hitchhiking in New Found Land, Canada. They taught me that performances can be made up of all that I love. A piece of performance doesn't need to follow conventions in story and in style... in anything. Ker Wells and Number 11 Theatre really woke me up to creating work with elements of rehearsal, objects and story that I value. In line with their values, they don't have web presence, they exist only when you are in company with them. They work with intense physical and mental training based on Jerzy Grotowski's work. I followed his training after meeting Number 11, which has had a huge effect both personally and professionally.”
What’s on Stage: "Ludicrous, giddy and strangely intoxicating" (full review here)
Audience Member: "The show is episodical, existential, sexy and hilarious"
This is Cabaret: "unique and powerful flashes of how our lives can be" (full review here)
Director: Zoë Cobb
Cameo Performance by: Gabby Sellen
Designer: Elia Conti
Sound Designer: Charlie Knight