Belfast ‘s premier arts festival wants to mess with your head.
Oh, don’t be fooled by how orderly and calm everything seems. It’s 134 events crammed into one month, including 18 UK & Ireland premieres. It’s a riot of ideas, and it’s here to storm your head and rearrange your brain.
In my case, I attend Calixto Bieito’s radically different version of Puccini’s Turandot. If you’re familiar with it, you’ll remember the happy ending. With this version? Not so much with either “happy” or “ending”. It leaves the heroine in a pool of her own blood at the front of the stage, and the hero gibbering in misery somewhere near the back. All is lost, all is ash and ruin – curtain descends.
Curiously, this is how Puccini left the story. He died with two Acts completed and a third only in draft form, leaving the ending to be happied up and completed by another composed. Bieito’s daring approach was to present the audience witha 100% Puccini, supremely bleak non-ending. Thanks to a powerful performance and some strikingly industrial-looking set design, the result is…unsettling. You leave the theatre with a whirl of new thoughts to grapple with, a set of preconceptions overturned or smashed to bits.
This is, of course, what art is supposed to do. If it leaves you the same person, it’s not done its job.
Plenty of other acts this year were just as subversive – like The Kitchen, a drumming performance centred around an enormous pot of payasam (an Indian sweet milk pudding), which was later dished up to the audience. This year’s Artist in Residence was Amanda Coogan, an expert at “drawing fantastic attendance and generating enormous publicity and discussion…”
But for me, it was an opera with the end left hanging that got me thinking about what art festivals are for.
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