I am a Friend of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park as we live close to it – it’s a very beautiful old cemetery which is now a woodland park in East London. This year, as part of the Lift Festival, Depart, a circus and dance show was put on in the graveyard, a performance based around the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus.
In the myth, Orpheus travels to the Underworld to rescue his love Eurydice and bring her back to life, he was granted his wish on condition that he did not look back. Sadly, he looks back just before she reached freedom, and lost her forever.
Classical hell doesn’t share all the tropes of Christian hell – there are fewer torments of the damned and demons, it’s more about a sadness and a yearning to return to the world. In response to this idea the performers were often still or moving slowly, particularly the trapeze artists who hung in the trees making quite leisurely, graceful movements or the mime artist who stood welcoming us to the Underworld at the start of the performance. Eurydice (I believe it was her) also made some appearances, standing as still as a statue in a blue dress as we filed past her.
The music complemented the performances: I particularly loved the choir who wore dark veils and black clothes (extremely simple and very effective) and sang beautifully in a mixture of English and (I think) Latin at one point. One standout performance was two men who performed an act which is called Chinese Pole: they sometimes appeared to be flying on or around it as they plunged down and climbed up.
Another was a performance by a man and a woman who lifted each other and climbed around on a tree stump: they conveyed weightiness and sorrow in their very skilful performance, managing to move gracefully and slowly despite the mud and the rain (it was a very wet day and some of the performances had to be modified because of this).
And finally, simple projections which created flowers blooming on graves were extremely moving and beautiful – one of the standout moments visually from my point of view.
What the whole evening brought home to me was how much more natural and compelling performance art (in particular) is if you are outside. There were clearly huge technical challenges for the performers, not least because of the terrible weather, but the show was heightened and made more profound by being set free and allowing the audience to move around in order to experience it more fully. I hope very much Lift will be back next year with something else to inspire and move everyone watching.