Ev­ery­thing That Hap­pened and Would Hap­pen

The Guardian - G2 - - Live Reviews - An­drew Cle­ments

★★☆☆☆ 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

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