I’m sure the concept of a naked man (save for a pair of large boots, a neck ruffle and boxing gloves) throwing himself onto the floor repeatedly in a silent room with stark lighting might seem stereotypical of performance art to many people’s mind. Happily, Aneckxander manages to feel warm, human and funny though it has all of the above – and, while it probably wouldn’t be suitable for children, it might well convert many who would be put off by the first description.
The London International Mime Festival offers a broad umbrella, mixing various schools of mime, physical theatre, clowning, circus, dance and even puppetry into its month long programme. This is its strength, acknowledging that mime can be lots of things, frequently crossing into different genres, and the festival is all the more interesting and relevant because of this.
For fans of the abstract, Aneckxander is an exploration of what the body is, how it moves and, ultimately, what it is to be human. It is absurd. At times bleak, surreal and dark, at others silly – slapstick even – and good humoured. Performer Alexander Vantournhout shows a childlike desire to test the body and discover it’s limitations for better or worse. The different shapes that the body can make are apparently infinite, from Gollum-like creatures to statuesque displays of strength, balance and control.
The lack of set (and, for the most part, any props), means this feels like a window into someone’s head. The few items of clothing are meant to exaggerate the limbs and to emphasise the nakedness of Vantournhout (the solo performer). Once you get acclimatised to the weirdness of watching a naked figure cartwheel around in a theatre space, it feels freeing. The choreography is very playful, which nods to his background in contact improvisation, and the acrobatic elements have strange rhythms and flows not normally seen in circus. There is some of the refusal to accept the normal rules of gravity you might see in a Streb performance, but the approach is much more intimate.
This is definitely experimental theatre, for an audience willing to take a risk, but I was engaged throughout. There are genuine laughs, though spoilers would remove their effect so I’ll refrain from writing about them here. During the show there’s a sense that anything could happen – at one point the lights catch fire, and I find myself weighing up whether this is planned or if I should be evacuating the theatre. Devices like this mean that even with a very minimal setup you are kept constantly on your guard, unable to look away.
I accept that this show might not be to everyone’s taste. If you get your kicks from easy, packaged up experiences then this probably is going to be too weird for you. But it is wonderful to know that, for people who want to see new things and be challenged by what they watch, there are places like Jacksons Lane and the London International Mime Festival that promote this kind of performance.
The Mime Festival continues till 6th February, in Jacksons Lane and seven other venues around London, with some great companies involved. Why not check some out yourself?