Air Falbh leis na h-eòin | Away with the birds

13 Mar 2013 in Dance & Drama, Film, Gaelic, Music, Showcase

Tramway, Glasgow, 9 March 2013

THAT this show had only been initiated five days before within the rehearsal space of the Tramway, with three days for the vocalists to perfect their parts, made it all the more strikingly different.

PERFORMED as part of the Tramway’s Rip It Up season of new commissions and work-in-progress pieces designed and executed within and with support from the theatre itself, Away With the Birds is a collaboration between artist and composer Hanna Tuulikki, choreographer Rosalind Masson and film-maker Daniel Warren.

Rosalind Masson in Away With The Birds

Rosalind Masson in Away With The Birds

The core idea is simple, yet gives the impression of being intensely complex to actually arrange. A meditation upon both the sound of birdsong and that of Gaelic folk singing, the piece involves six female performers – Tuulikki and Masson amongst them, all dressed uniformly in simple black dresses and red tights – performing Tuulikki’s voice-only score ‘Voice of the Bird’ against a backdrop of films by Warren showing scree and cliffs, sea waves rushing by and the performers themselves on a desolate grey beach.

Backed by gentle but evocative field recordings made on the Small Isles by Geoff Sample, the performers vocalise the song of birds as a series of squawks and syllables which are lent a chorus-like quality when the voices merge together, and a real sense of relational interaction through Masson’s deft, delicate choreography. The performers are unhurried as they glide steadily around the stage, falling into a V-shaped flight pattern and away into pairs and trios who regard each other with curious interest.

Then on more than one occasion these voices coalesce into haunting Gaelic melodies – even more impressive given that not all of the singers are native speakers – and the effect is complete. This is not a high-concept experiment, more a complete and immersive evocation of place and sense, an attempted re-imaging of wilderness landscapes both without any human involvement and filled with the echoing resonances of history and tradition.

Even as a forty-five minute try-out it was mesmerising to watch and listen to. The nine-voice version at May’s Tectonics festival in Glasgow (Old Fruitmarket, 11 May) and the intended 2014 performance and installation on the Isle of Canna – a great inspiration for the piece – will be worth waiting for.

© David Pollock, 2013