Stairwall – The Things We Find, an appreciation

Sunday 6th November 2022, 4pm
Percy A. Hudson LTD, Timber Merchants, Borough Sawmills, Northumberland Street, North Shields 

A re-encounter with myself, my region and tradition, in terms influenced by German theatre, art and writing, on a Sunday afternoon in a timber merchant’s in North Shields is not something I’d have expected in my youth (mostly spent not five minutes by car from this performance). Maybe that’s just me despite my propensity for artistic things and despite all the ways art and artists were and had already connected to the region. But I suspect it is not just me. It also often seems to be reflected in how others often seem to see the area. This performance brought a lot back home and helps reinvent that home, refreshed, grateful, and looking ahead.

A beautiful production from Dance Artist Esther Huss (ABOUT US, MAO Gallery; Faust & Turandot, Royal Opera House; Trinkets, Tate Britain) set in north eastern spaces that invite reconsideration of connection to things and the environment. This setting in a working space added layers of interest and experience to the piece. I found it successful in ways I wasn’t expecting. I want to give a picture of the performance and some of the things I felt and think but will try hard not to be too specifically interpretive – it did invite meaning making of course, but it is also in keeping with it to be loose in doing it I think. When I spoke to Esther after the performance she explained that whilst there are moments in each part of it that they feel need to happen, much of the rest is improvisatory and in some spirit of anarchy too that is sensitive to the interplay of the three participants. So maybe it would be wrong for me to pin it down too much. There are things I’d love to say. I hope you will forgive the balance I try to strike. What i say are inspirations to me for further exploration as a beginner in some of these fields. This piece is well developed work of such quality delivered with great care.

Esther works alongside visual artist Claudia Sacher (Breath of my Garden, Gibside; Minor Injury, Healey; Marking Time/ Tritt Auf der Stelle, Museum Folkwang Essen), and sound artist Jeremy Bradfield (The Snow Queen, Northern Stage; Tyne Rising, Newcastle Puppetry Festival; The Tin Foil Astronaut, Kitchen Zoo). Each of them clad in a primary colour, Esther a red jump suit, Claudia similarly in blue and Jeremy in yellow with a striking yellow top hat.

The piece was framed by readings in a north eastern accent from a short story by Siegfried Lenz. I learned this afterwards and am curious to learn more of him now. It worked in terms of being familiar in how it spoke yet strange, foreign perhaps (a quality I think it would also deliberately have in German to start with). I must recognise how this piece of course speaks from Esther’s country of birth.

The stage is set with a wall at an angle to the audience. One side used with art and colour where Claudia was busy, making. The other side blank with shelf-like stairs perhaps. There seemed to be a dynamic of some opposition and differing directions between the three yet at the same time interplay and teasing. The wall itself, especially the coloured side made me think of Kurt Schwitter’s Merz Wall of course, and Dada came to mind, this project is Stairwall.

The music was striking I was really enjoying it and after playful development of their positions Jeremy revolved the moveable wall and secured it so that we were faced with the blank white wall and stairs/shelves. I think it was around this time I was thinking how the music sounded somewhat in tune with breath and on thinking about it, like breath, I became less consciously aware of it. It just fitted so well with the ongoing performance. At that point I also further let go trying to impose a narrative on it all to swim in its exploration, to be with it.

There was a gentle comedy as small items audience members were invited to bring, that spoke to them of connection to the community, were examined, in amusing comparison to the antiques shows seen on television.  I thought of Kafka’s short piece, The Cares of a Family Man, in which the mysterious Odradek is met. Who knows quite what he is, but quite remarkable and respected. And the meeting in itself remarkable.

The interplay of dance and music and visual art developed towards a conclusion. Somehow the performances seemed in tune and working together and it felt there was some resolution that had paid respect to the past and looked forward. I felt reinvigorated and in a way somehow out of reach so much of the time. I could think of a sort of Alexander Technique to it, bringing to life fresh encounter with being. Maybe all these things I’d noticed and more feeding in. It worked I was engrossed and made some move in myself with it.

The staging and lighting was lovely, simple and intelligently used, the dance always redolent and soulful yet gentle and fun, the interactions inviting, the art engaging and speaking of making, the music catchy and/or in tune with the piece (of course). It all mixes together to be an experience shared that I am glad to have had. In her programme notes Esther explains that the Stairwall project began with a piece last year ‘Stairwall – The Things we Climb’ (that I am sorry I missed) and goes on to say “‘Stairwall – The Things We Find’ – is an invitation to discover something new about yourself, should you wish to.” I hope you do .

A Must See Show.

Lead and Dance Artist Esther Huss (she/her) 

Visual Artist Claudia Sacher (she/her) 

Sound Artist/Multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Bradfield (he/him) 

Scenic Construction Jona Aal (he/him) 

Costume Designer Imogen Cloet (she/her)

Next (and last of this series) Performance:
Friday 11th November, 7pm
Knott Memorial Hall, Towne Gate Heddon-on-the-wall, NE15 0DT 

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