Interview with Leo Kay: eating, performance and community

Most recently, deputy editor Freya Gosling had the fantastic opportunity of being in contact with Unfinished Business, a theatre company established by Leo Kay and Anna Smith in 2010. Little Ghost were lucky enough to first interview Leo, then later in the week went to the first London performance of the company’s latest production ‘Only Wolves and Lions’, a project involving according to the company, ‘A meal, a conversation, a performance provocation….’
1.   How many people are invited to cook at the Only Wolves and Lions performances? Is it just the 16 diners, or is there any additional audience members too?

We have performed the show for 8 people and for up to 40 people. Those who participate as audience are also the cooks. These are the only people in the space alongside the company, who also join in as participants in the cooking experience.

2.       How do you go about choosing a recipe for the meal? How important is the recipe to the nature of the performance?

The process of choosing what we will cook is an exercise in guided democracy; in listening, honouring each other’s ideas and then making strong decisions.  Weaved in to this process are philosophical and psychological ideas surrounding choice, celebration of what we have and the letting go of that which we don’t in relation to the pursuit of psychological well being.

The final recipes chosen are not as important as the consensus arrived at and the commitment of the group to future execution of cooking tasks. The process reminds me a little of one that I came across when reading about the drama educationalist Dorothy Heathcote; very much about the need to elicit group commitment to the decided course of action, even if it is not your first choice.  Intention and commitment are everything.

3.       You have often used and referred to Brazilian culture in your work. How important do you find Brazilian culture to be (and/or other cultures) when discussing community? Do you, for example, compare Brazilian communities with British community- or the lack thereof?

Throughout the past 11 years I have been influenced greatly by my relationship to Brazil.  I first went out to train in capoeira, then was invited to teach physical performance for a company In Salvador and ended up staying, teaching and directing for a year.  During this time I met a woman and began a 6 year relationship. I have been back to run several projects and research Afro BrazilIan culture and religious ritual.  My understanding of possibilities of human interaction, creative expression and ritual are heavily influenced by my engagement with Brazilian culture.  I refer lightly to it in this event, but this project is very much about the relationship that myself, Unai, Anna and the participating audience have to community and isolation.

4.       How are topics of discussion brought forward to the ‘table’ during performances of Only Wolves and Lions? Is everyone encouraged to talk while they cook?  Is the discussion angled, to make sure everyone has a fair contribution?

We feed the audience with philosophical and ideological opinions and standpoints.  We have a moment of storytelling and then we invite conversation.  We attempt to keep a relaxed and open attitude which welcomes discourse and interruption. Once audience around the table start to join in the discourse we prompt and provoke, give opinion and space for others opinions to be heard. We attempt to be  subtle hosts who are constantly learning how best to allow space for the those who find it hard to articulate and those that are shy to express opinion.  Often it is these opinions that need to be heard.  It is the less self-assured, self satisfied whose voice I want to celebrate.
The piece was made due to  a personal revelation I had, that within contemporary urban living, community is fragile and can slip away. Before you know it, you are eating alone and have no one to share your thoughts and feelings with.  Precedence being given over to production and consumption, rather than the benefits of sharing time to promote well being.

5.       Do you keep in contact with the people that attend and contribute to your projects?

We don’t keep in contact with participants unless they want to be on our mailing list.  Though any suggestions on further post process contact would be welcomed! We are aware that with a project of this nature the experience begins before the event and ends well after the meal  therefor a consideration of how people can engage with it after they have been involved would be a wonderful development. But as of yet this hasn’t been integrated.

6.       Have you noted any strong differences between the reactions to your projects when you perform them in different cities? For example, how do Londoners come across in comparison to participants from Reading?

Not so much marked difference between the cities, but there are things that effect the work.  The nature of the space effects the work. The more broken and ramshackle the space is, the more free and wild the event can be. It feels like the events natural home is Stoke Newington International Airport. A live art warehouse space in North East London.  When we perform it in this chaotic environment the event has a very special energy.  Another thing that effects the work is cultural context.  We have performed it in Greece, The Basque Country, France and England and there are subtle difference in the way people interact with the making of food and the discussion of philosophical content.  The Basques all brought meat and were incredibly proud and accomplished cooks.  The Greek and international delegates at an art symposium in Greece were very creative and free, as were the London experimenters.  But I don’t see the differences in English geographical location delineating different reactions to the work too much.

7.       Do the participants of the projects generally relax into the atmosphere of the night, or do some feel they are only part of some social experiment?

The participants usually totay relax Into the atmosphere encouraged by the night and are surprised when it is over.  It’s the ambiguity about what exactly the event is, that both intrigues and enchants audiences.  Often they forget they are in a performance and engage in the very real activities presented and needed to be achieved for the performance event to continue. These undefined platforms of expression allow the audience to feel a sense of autonomy and a creative responsibility. This context of exploration really excites me.

8.       How different do you think the atmosphere of the dining room discussions would be if Great Britain was experiencing a boom in industry and economic prosperity?

I don’t think I would have felt it a vital piece of work to make were Great Britain experiencing a boom.  I think it is very much about the cracks that have been made in the wall of capitalist success that allow for the depth of discussion surrounding where we are and what actually promotes happiness and well being as opposed to what we are fed by the media and popular culture that surrounds us. It’s the cracks that let the light in!

9.       How do you think this project is different to the others you have run since establishing Unfinished Business? Does it push more boundaries/challenge its participants more?

I think that in relation to form this project is a development in my desire to explore authentic communication with audience. I love the idea of interactive  performance but it is seldom that I believe the character or performer that I am interacting with. This performance event is also about how far you can push audience interaction and responsibility within a clearly defined performance structure. I wanted to make a living example of the central discussion point  of community, sharing and the positive effects of physical and psychological well being. The show is an example of the philosophies that run throughout it.

10.   How does the next project you are running, Life: Making a Meal of It, differ to that of Only Wolves and Lions?

‘Life: Making A Meal Of It’ is a participatory intergenerational project, so we will create the performance with a group of under 18 and over 60 year olds. It is the second project of this kind in this trajectory of work and seems to be forming an interesting project structure.  In 2009/10 I created ‘It’s Like He’s Knocking’, an intimate performance about the men in my family and their journeys through life. It focused on ancestry, memory, migration and coincidence.  Alongside this piece we developed ‘The Remember Me Tea Dance’, an intergenerational interactive performance which explored shared histories through our relationship to dancing. The performers taught the audience couples dances, told stories, encouraged the audience to write down their own memories and finally shared tea and cakes with them.  

As with ‘The Remember Me Tea Dance’ for ‘Life: Making A Meal Of It’ we are working in partnership with South Street Arts Centre. This project will look at uncovering significant memories and recipes from the lives of the participants. They will teach each other recipes alongside developing new performance and storytelling methods, as we develop a live performance, which will take place around a dinner table.  A home cooked meal around a beautiful table, cooked by the performers will great the audience. Ideas surrounding community, the importance of the act of cooking and the celebration of memory are all themes that will be explored.  Like ‘Only Wolves And Lions’ this will be an interactive performance, however the audience will be a little more pampered and the performers a little more supported, each according to their ability!

Stay tuned for the review of the Only Wolves and Lions performance at the BAC!

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Fink teams up with 59 Productions

‘The stage becomes the fourth member of the band’

This isn’t particularly new but we thought we’d share it with you anyway. Think of it as our way of brightening up this snowy Sunday that the UK is experiencing.

Fink are a band we’ve always loved (especially Kim), and when you throw in a load of Angelpoise lamps (Sian’s favourites!) you’ve got one hell of a mix. Fink teamed up with 59 Productions last year to create a sensational video that they describe as being so much more than a light show.

This backstage film explains a little more about the relationship between the visual language and the band’s sound and is, basically, just a really fab way to spend your Sunday. Enjoy!

Fashion Future 2012: Mary Katrantzou

Rachael Kerr puts the spotlight on fashion phenomenon and Queen of Print, Mary Katrantzou

As we enter 2012 the fashion word on everyone’s lips here at LG HQ is PRINT, and the designer everyone wants a piece of is MARY KATRANTZOU.  No surprises who is kicking off twenty twelve with an exclusive Katrantzou collaboration? Why, its high street giant Topshop, of course.

Before we discuss and debate the success of this collaboration (it’s a no brainer really!) let’s take a quick look at the designer herself. Katrantzou, originally from Athens, is based in London and for the past six seasons has been awarded NEWGEN sponsorship for her collections at LFW. Like all expert print designers the key to each collections success is how each print is ‘moulded’ into and around the garment shape so that, suddenly, the two components become one breathtaking design; fish-bowl skirts, structured neck and shoulder armour, and lampshade dresses have distinguished previous collections.

SS12 dabbled in the mullet hemline and the newly popular trouser suit amongst her usual dazzling array of dresses. And the Topshop blog has already been teasing us with images from their collaboration. Take a peek at this super-fun, super-summery, super-delicious Pheasant Dream dress below, retailing at approx £350.

When? FEBRUARY is the month it all kicks off at Topshop.
Verdict? Sure fire win.

Warning: Oxford Circus is going to be home to a serious fashion riot.

Concrete Dream Land 2012: Birmingham UK

When it comes to the UKs second city, it’s a love hate relationship. We all love to poke fun at the concrete junkyard that is Birmingham. But before you start imitating the accent, here at LG HQ we’ve noticed that Brum has been receiving some rather fantastic press recently, and with good reason too. Last week, for example, the New York Times excitedly named Birmingham one of the most exciting cities to visit in 2012 and Tom Service from the Guardian actually said ‘if you live in Birmingham, you’re lucky’! With our contacts, including our exceptionally talented photographer Kimberly Faria, and own fond memories of Birmingham, we felt it was mandatory to give a few of our own reasons why this is 100% true.

Architecture

Firstly, it is common knowledge that Birmingham does not have a skyline; it is an amalgamated confusion of modern and old. Postcards of its ‘skyline’ leave one with a general “Huh. Oh right.” feeling. However, the architectural make up of this city is both historically novel and contains some genuine treasures:

Birmingham’s Brindleyplace, Dome of Birmingham Council House building and ‘Old Joe’, the Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower

Green- no, seriously.

Yes, it does sound unbelievable, but grass, trees and even flowers can be found in this city that is often thought of as a centre for urban industry, commerce, and… well grime. There are Lickey Hills, Selly Park, The Vale and little pockets of hidden gardens in the city centre.

The Vale on the University of Birmingham grounds and our lovely Jess in Selly Park.

Gig Scene

Being the second largest city, Birmingham attracts all kinds of artists. The Custard Factory and Rainbow are unique hotspots like no other in the country. Then there’s the Hare and Hounds pub which attracts smaller acts and the O2 Academy and HMV Insitute which hosts all the big, mainstream names. Many a night was spent dancing like lunatics and sweatily appreciating countless bands and artists in Brum’s well-established and up and coming music venues.

Arts and Culture

There are plenty of galleries in Brum, including the BMAG and Barber Institute of Fine Art, but the Ikon is, hands down, just a truly fabulous gallery. Formerly a Victorian school, this neo-gothic building boasts not only a cool and cultured location in Oozells Square in Birmingham’s Brindley Place, it also hosts some of the most cutting edge and often challenging exhibitions we have seen in the city and across the country. And you couldn’t find a better team of people supporting the gallery’s endeavours.

FYI: Amazing Spanish cuisine in their restaurant also, some of us at LG have been known to take a doggy bag of paella from here ‘cos it’s just too damn good.

Exterior and Interior shot of IKON gallery

However, if you fancy a more traditional evening of culture, ‘ol Brum does not disappoint in this way either with the city’s Symphony Hall, the Town Hall and the Hippodrome all offering extraordinary choices in classical music, dance and drama. The Hippodrome for instance is officially the busiest theatre in the UK, and is not only the home of the Birmingham Royal Ballet but boasts a rich annual programme of opera, West End shows, pantomime and drama, all performed in a beautiful neo-classical auditorium. LG has spent a good few evenings staring open-mouthed at male ballet dancers thighs… while simultaneously having great appreciation for their grace and art. Of course.

Food

Birmingham is a city of multitudinous nationalities and cultures, and one fantastic way of demonstrating this is through the fantastic selection of cuisine available, both in restaurants and on open food markets. Some of our favourites included Birmingham New Street’s Food annual Food Festival, the Balti Belt where you can find any type of Pakistani curry under the sun, and Woktastic, a great unpretentious sushi bar with great value Japanese delights. (You feel you’ve made the most out of a all you can eat sushi bar after 22 little portions…! ). There are also the delicious Junction pub in Harbourne and La Fibule is undoubtedly one of the best independent Moroccan restaurants we’ve been to.


Snobs

The best club night out in Brum. Dingy, sweaty, wonderful. Only here can you sway to Etta James, mosh to the Arctic Monkeys then stamp on a table to Jimi Hendrix one after the other while knocking back gin and tonics for £1. First love, last love.

Overall, I think we have communicated that you would be mad to miss out on Birmingham. Sack off your other plans and book your tickets immediately!

Eileen Fisher Preview @ Marylebone

Rachael Kerr takes a trip to the new Eileen Fisher store and gets a sneak peak at the latest collection

‘We value colour and texture over pattern…’
… And boy did this strike me as I stepped into the Marylebone store last Thursday evening!

The fabrics truly spoke for themselves. I barely even noticed the suited and booted waiter as he handed me a glass of elderflower champagne.  The latest collection is a refreshing world where fashion trends and fads are not the main focus. Yes, they have an influence but the key to this designer’s success is timelessness. The collection consists of sophisticated pieces that are simply and carefully designed.

Conscientiously sourced fabrics and yarns are not boasted about, but instead underpin the Eileen Fisher ethos. The Suri alpaca wool has been sourced from herds in the Andes and is used for much of the loose loop knitwear, which aims to preserve traditional methods and livelihoods.

It was this acid yellow snood that caught my attention, complete with an oversized nappy pin to help position the accessory just so (a detail I’d never seen before and which caused much commotion within the store!).

All in all, it was these stylish updates that would keep you coming back for more.
And why not throw in that essential black jersey skirt and mohair cape-cardigan while you’re at it

For more information: www.eileenfisher.co.uk

96 Marylebone High Street, W1U 4RH / Covent Garden, 4 Slingsby Place, St Martin’s Courtyard, WC2E 9AB