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London International Mime Festival 2011

It's old dogs with new tricks at the 2011 London International Mime Festival. Animations Online weighs the evidence and judges present work by past deeds.

A contender surely for AO's Most Featured Company, FaultyOptic are also at this point very nearly LIMF Puppeteers in Residence: they've appeared at the festival four out of the last five years, and nine times in total. In scratching the surface of Animations Online's extensive coverage of FO's activities over the years, at LIMF and elsewhere, you might want to look back to this interview and company profile, this review of their 2003 masterwork Soiled, or to a critique of their last LIMF show, the 2009 triptych Fish Clay Perspex. They're back for 2011 with Flogging a Dead Horse, a production that features the company's usual charmingly ugly characters, but which takes a step away from the familiar FO style: where in previous shows the puppets alone took centrestage, this new piece will explore the relationship between puppet and actor. It's about sperm whales, Oscar Wilde's Salome, and the structure and workings of the human brain, if you needed to know.    

Josef Nadj last visited LIMF in 2008 with Paso Doble, a collaboration with the sculptor Miquel Barceló that saw them scratching and scarring a great wall of red clay. Dorothy Max Prior saw the piece in New York and mused on the cross-artform nature of a work where 'the passing nature of performance meets the plasticity of 3D visual art-making' – thoughts worth revisiting in light of Nadj's 2011 contribution, Les Corbeaux. Another collaboration, this time with the jazz musician Akosh Szelevényi, the piece uses a barrel of black paint and a white canvas to evoke the spirit of the crow – 'wise birds, harbingers of death, symbols of the divine and diabolical'.

Reviewing Teatro Corsario's 2008 show Aullidos Matthew Isaac Cohen admired the technical skill and the vivid monstrosity of the puppets, but otherwise found the characterisation and tone leaden and humourless. Perhaps then Corsario's 2010 show, La Maldición de Poe, will work with richer material, drawing as it does on the stories of the famous American writer. Seemingly following a cursed Edgar Allen as he is chased from one terrible vision to another, the production will haunt audiences again with the company's trademark 'puppets of terror'.

French company Les Antliaclastes are at the festival for the first time, but are headed up by Patrick Sims – formerly creative director of Buchinger’s Boot Marionettes, who were at LIMF in 2007 with Vestibular Folds (Penny Francis was left wrung out by a 'chaotic, cacophonous, impenetrable' performance, a 'huge if intriguing joke') and in 2009 with The Armature of the Absolute (which Matthew Isaac Cohen adjudged 'must-see puppet theatre, and as convincing a case for the vitality of the artform as any work now being produced'). So it's a new company and a new name, but Les Antliaclastes certainly shares the same style of puppet as its forebear (common working materials: formaldehyde, skin, bone), and sounds as though it takes the same ramshackle approach to plot assembly, being a 'micro comic-tragedy based on the cycles of the washing machine and set in the basement of a rundown museum of natural history'.

Writing in 2005 on a Riverside Studios outing of Akhe Engineering Theatre's Wet Wedding, Matthew Isaac Cohen identified the roots of the company's style in the 'constructivist experiments of the 1920s and the rich traditions of Russian object theatre', while reviewing Faust 2360 Wordsin 2009 Darren East likened the piece to 'a séance in a Heath Robinson nightclub'. Well, take your pick. At LIMF 2011 the St Petersburg Akhe are showing Gobo. Digital Glossary, a series of seventeen short vignettes that sounds as though it has been optimally configured for the company's characteristic fast pacing and manic brio.

Aurélien Bory's work last appeared at LIMF in 2009 with Les Sept Planches de la Ruse, a piece based on the ancient Chinese Tangram that struck AO reviewer Penny Francis as finding 'true harmony in the combination of the music, lighting, the bodies in space, the shifting shapes, the inventiveness'. This time round Compagnie 111 / Aurélien Bory's Sans Objet sees acrobats Olivier Alenda and Olivier Boyer on stage with a gigantic mechanical arm that was once part of an automobile factory's assembly line – 'the unlikely hero of a remarkable futurist fantasy'.


The London International Mime Festival 2011 takes place 15-30 January at the Barbican, the ICA, the ROH's Linbury Studio Theatre, the Roundhouse, and the Southbank Centre.

For more of an idea of what's in store you may additionally want to direct your browser to: this jaunty disco video of Sans Objet's dancing robot; a clip of Les Corbeaux that makes it look possibly like a cross between a Tony Hart rerun and a Janá?ek opera; Akhe Engineering Theatre's hectic invention as represented by this extended teaser; a trailer for Teatro Corsario's La Maldición de Poe that may be decodable if you're familiar with the stories on which it's based, and is otherwise just a great whack of enveloping darkness; and finally this beautifully shot film of Hilum which is almost better left as a fall-back for if you can't get tickets to the live performance.

Top image: Compagnie 111 / Aurélien Bory, Sans Objet.


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