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Photo: Alexander Brattell.

Men behaving beautifully

HOT’s Chris Connelley was transfixed by Melt Down, a Coastal Currents installation that was quite literally a walk in the park.

One of the pleasures of living opposite Alexandra Park is the opportunity to eavesdrop its many events with minimum effort, and over the couple of years we have lived here, we’ve heard Keane play live, shared the rumbustious pleasures of the Prom Night, dozed in deckchairs to the joyous accompaniment of Sussex Brass and pottered around countless fayres and fun days.

On Sunday evening, temporarily abandoning the prepping of our Sunday roast, Mrs Connelley and I popped over the road to witness the latest installation for the Coastal Currents Arts Festival, Melt Down, a reimagining of an event originally conceived by Rosemary Lee by Henrietta Hale with help from Ben Ash.

Joining a crowd of around 50 audience members on the grass for the third and final performance of the day, we waited expectantly as the ringing of a giant bell heralded the arrival of a group of 17 men, advancing slowly and determinedly from behind the trees to take up position. Encompassing a diversity of age and ethnic groups, and with a pleasingly eclectic set of facial hair preferences, there is an immediate sense of similarity yet difference, inviting thoughts as to who they are, what brings them together and what, if anything, they represent.

They defy immediate categorisation and encourage flights of fancy. Might they be a Tai Chi troupe, a stag party on the way to a bender in the Old Town, worshippers heading over to the church on nearby Layton Road or a group of male models on an outdoors photo shoot for an autumnal menswear catalogue?

Photo: Alexander Brattell.

At the tolling of a single bell, they stretch their arms overhead, gazing upwards at the rapidly darkening skies, the passing of each of the next 10 minutes marked by a further strike of the bell as the group slowly sink towards the soil, in a quite literal case of mass male ‘melt down’.

The performance, though short, is totally immersive and demands our full attention, given the subtle, nuanced and almost imperceptible, individualised body adjustments which transform the confident, affirmative initial group posture to recumbent, felled horizontal forms.

We are transfixed by the various options adopted by the volunteer performers, the stillness and discipline required to ensure postures are held, the fluency and flow which makes it almost impossible to locate any specific movement and the meditative calm of the whole thing, which somehow even manages to block out the noise of children playing on adjacent logs.

The performance ends with the men standing before walking away, singly and in silence in all four directions, to loud applause from an entranced audience.

So what to make of it? Whilst there can be no doubting the intensity and power of this collective act, attempts to impose broader meaning, for example through conceiving the performance as a dramatic representation of the much discussed crisis of modern masculinity or as the symbolic death of traditional gender roles, inevitably leave us floundering in Pseuds Corner territory, mouthing the charmless mantras of ‘art speak’.

Which is why I will simply close by recognising the commitment and effort of the volunteer team, who were apparently rehearsed over many hours to deliver a memorable, thought-provoking and possibly slightly unsettling experience that maintains the high standards of this well-established annual festival.

There’s a lot more to come so if you have yet to engage with Coastal Currents 2014, make time to check out their programme.

Posted 16:58 Monday, Sep 8, 2014 In: Performance

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