Sensored Festival at Contact: Soundless dancing and dining in the dark

Stevie Mackenzie-Smith

Sensored, Contact theatre’s one-day performance festival, explores how the absence of senses can heighten our experiences. Intrigued? So were we…

How do the ways in which we experience the world alter in the absence of one of the five senses? How is it to dance to a soundless song, or feast on a meal without a sense of taste, and how boundless is the brain in its ability to fill in the gaps? Sensored, a one-day art and performance festival at Contact, premieres a series of performances with a common aspect; the omission of one of the five senses.

Produced by Re:Con – Contact’s Young Programming and Producing team – Sensored is made up of six shows, five of which have been created during a residency period and are testament to the theatre’s commitment to nurturing new talent. The festival also includes a Dinner In The Dark (think vegan curries and delicious homemade samosas consumed in total darkness) and a panel discussion.

For Hiatus, a soundless dance performance sees a dancer moving to a score heard only by them. Stripped of sound, the piece becomes a unique experience, with each audience member creating their own, internal score. A collaboration between London-based dance company Subtle Kraft Co. and Dominican composer Jose Puello, the concept brings to mind the recent music video for Jamie xx’s Sleep Sound.

Sleep Sound was shot in a studio at the Manchester Deaf Centre with deaf and hard-of-hearing people coming together to share the euphoria of dancing, and the score is a varying scale of silence for each. It’s a reminder of the uplifting communion of sober dance, once you take that nervous first step over the periphery.

A series of premiere performances that each omit one of the five senses

Also playing on the imagination, spoken word duo Empty Kitchen present IOrganic as part of Sensored Festival, a show which feeds the audience a meal without food, using language to trigger a sense of taste. This will surely be either deliciously tantalising or the catalyst for an orchestra of rumbling tummies. Singer, performer and spoken word artist Ali Matthews performs The Ballad of Isosceles, unpicking one-to-one performances that, on the surface, seem intimately personal – but actually involve the repetition of an identikit interaction with multiple people.

Meanwhile, two performances examine identity and appearance; Jo Bannon’s returns with Exposure, shown as part of 2014’s Flying Solo festival at Contact, and asks how we are looked at, and if, from the outside, we can be seen truthfully. Frances Kay’s Make Me Beautiful invites blindfolded participants to literally ‘beautify’ the performer with make-up, challenging the idea that beauty is either tangible or sight-based. The results will be photographed, and I for one am curious to know whether one standard ‘correct’ image will be created, or aesthetic variety will triumph.

Façade Theatre’s interactive Scent Tent will be open for business throughout the festival, inviting participants to create a perfume based on descriptions of smells. It’s an exploration of the how perfume is sold, how experiences are marketed through their association with smell, and possibly, a send-up of those eternally terrifying white-jacketed perfume counter women.

Beyond the current hum of excitement over Manchester’s new multi-million pound arts venues and bi-annual festivals, whisperings about the actual inclusiveness of the city’s arts scene continue. While it’s great that the summer ahead gleams with the presence of internationally renowned stars and, ahem, Icelandic queens, we mustn’t forget these events aren’t always accessible to the masses. Contact doesn’t mess about; this one-day festival is a reflection of the cutting-edge theatre they continue to champion, and what’s more, it’ll cost you under a tenner.

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