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Company Willi Dorner, Hastings 21 September 2013

Company Willi Dorner, Hastings 21 September 2013

Bodies in urban spaces

Chris Connelley happily joins in a walk on the weird side, courtesy of Coastal Currents.

I’m too recent an arrival to have seen Hastings town centre cricket pitch, so have no idyllic images from yore to soften the upset on entering the deeply unlovely selling square that now bears the name Priory Meadow.

I generally try to avoid it, only rarely making a foray in for special events, including today’s Coastal Currents festival headliner Bodies in Urban Spaces.

As we approach on the cusp of noon, it looks pretty much as usual. Teenagers smoking roll-ups outside BHS, pensioners recovering their breath on the public benches and fractious family groups doing the Saturday shop.

Today, though, the regular cast of the lonely, the tired and the bored is punctuated by non-traditional little huddles, standing, waiting and looking expectant. Presuming they are here for the same reason as us, we loiter in our own little cluster, waiting for someone or something to take the lead.

Minutes later, a small group of black-clad stewards, clutching hi-viz vests, step into role and gradually cajole us into forming a larger single grouping. And then, as expectation builds, a set of hooded runners in primary colours jog by, initiating an hour-long guided strollathon through the town centre and out towards Alexandra Park.

The guided walk invites us to chance upon different configurations of those 18 runners in a set of unlikely situations – wedged under a bench, draped over steps into Wellington Square, in doorways and behind lamp columns – all the while demonstrating highly elastic contortions with elegance and poise as the ever expanding audience marvels, gasps, smiles and, wanting to capture what has been seen for disbelieving friends and family, snaps away on scores of phone cameras to record these very special, if unlikely, body installations.

The route encompasses both commercial centre and side streets, colonising benches, planters, public steps and individual private doorways, porches and courtyards as it wends its way, our anticipation for the next formation fed by the regular sight of Day-Glo performers running ahead to take up their next position.

It is enticing and involving stuff, and part of the fascination comes from the response of the public to the body sculptures, which ranges from the predictably British averting of the eye to pretend something is not there to an active desire to join in. “I could do that,” claims a middle-aged mum to her kids as they witness an early position near McDonalds. Elsewhere, a nervous dad guides a feisty tot away from an especially complex construction as it looks like he is about to touch, and maybe topple, it, whilst all along the route residents come out of their houses to discover what brings 50 or 60 strangers into their usually quiet backwaters, many continuing for the duration.

At one stage a couple of grown men cower behind the wheel of their car on St James Road as they are caught in the middle of another scene and form an impromptu part of our moving exhibition.

Eventually, we get to see all the runners in a single setting, this moment of whole group revelation bringing the performance to an end. Generating a lusty, gutsy, rousing ovation as we all break up and head off back to our private worlds this autumn weekend, content that we have been part of something special.

Bodies in Urban Spaces delivers a memorable, pacy, good-humoured and primary-coloured town tour that transforms the way we see our everyday space.

It was a perfect opening for this year’s festival, and the good news is that it is being replayed on Sunday September 22 at 12 noon and 4pm starting in Priory Meadow. Make time for it.

Bodies in Urban Spaces: performed by Cie. Willi Dorner. All photos by Alex Brattell.

Posted 11:28 Sunday, Sep 22, 2013 In: Performance

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