Everything That Happened and Would Happen
★★☆☆☆ Mayfield, Manchester Until 21 October
In what was formerly an Edwardian railway station, a man manoeuvres a huge length of tubing, like a giant didgeridoo, and positions it in front of the audience. To one side, an ondes martenot player begins drawing fragile sounds from her instrument as other performers start to sort through drop-cloths strewn across the performance area. Meanwhile, a network of metallic, industrial sounds starts to build around them. As if by stealth, Heiner Goebbels’ latest work, Everything That Happened and Would Happen, gets under way.
Over the last quarter century, Goebbels has worked at the boundaries of several art forms. He made his name with pieces that blurred the distinction between concert music and music theatre, but his richly allusive mixtures of sounds, texts and visuals have moved towards performance art and installations; his last new work to be seen in the UK, Stifters Dinge, did not involve any live performers at all.
So Everything That Happened, co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW to mark the centenary of the end of the first world war, and presented by Artangel and the Manchester international festival, is described as “part-performance, partconstruction site”. What happens tends to happen rather slowly, over more than two-and-a-half hours, without a break. The performers, a multicultural group of dancers and actors, manipulate objects around the cavernous space, sometimes erecting sheets on to which recent video from Euronews No Comment broadcasts are projected – there are images of the devastation caused by the Sulawesi tsunami, pro-animal rights demonstrations in London and Athens, rockets being launched in California and Kazakhstan. The Euronews clips are one of Goebbels’ sources, but the main inspiration for this highly elliptical take on the 20th-century history of Europe was Patrik Ouředník’s novel Europeana, subtitled “A Brief History of the Twentieth Century”, a deconstructed collection of anecdotes and unlikely social and political juxtapositions. Extracts from Ouředník’s book are read by the cast in some of the languages into which it has been translated, or unfurled on a screen. Meanwhile, Goebbel’s own staging for the 2012 Ruhrtriennale of John Cage’s Europeras
1 & 2, which reworks 200 years of the history of opera, was recycled to provide the elements of the “set”, but suggested another way of dealing with the swirling complexities of Europe in the last century.
Despite all this, it’s an overextended piece with little of the allusive richness of Goebbels’ finest work. It’s presented immaculately, with impressive technological finesse, pin-point choreography and ravishingly subtle lighting. Playing without scores, the four musicians – percussionist, saxophonist and electric bass player as well as the ondes – prove a backdrop that’s generally more sound continuum than music, though occasionally something more identifiable does crystallise out – at one point the ondes player unfurls a melody that Messiaen wrote for the instrument in the 1930s. But that’s a strangely isolated moment, something to connect with in what otherwise seems a hermetic and unconvincing evening. At its best, Goebbels’ work can be thrillingly unexpected and original; here it seems just indulgent.
At its best, Goebbels’ work can be thrillingly unexpected; here it seems just indulgent
Hermetic and unconvincing ... Everything That Happened