Aviva Studios, Manchester
November 11-15 2023: 1 hr 30 mins
Having invited everyone in Manchester to Free Your Mind in a technologically-created denunciation of technology as its opening gambit, Factory International is now engaged in a much more individual and physical kind of inauguration of its lavish new Aviva Studios building in Water Street.
“The Welcome” is a programme that sees the entrance hall (aka “The Social”) and foyer-bars open to all until November 19, with a succession of free performances, workshops, installations and children’s events. There’s also the chance to sample the place’s food and drink, which may seem on the expensive side – but hey, they’ve got to start showing an income somehow from the huge investment that’s gone into this place. And at least it’s possible simply to go there and keep warm, which may be a plus point for some right now (every day except Monday).
The paid-for show, in what they call “The Hall” – a big conventional-style theatre set over The Social – is Kalabante Productions’ display of circus skills, Afrique en Cirque, and that is a jaw-dropping celebration of what human bodies can do with little more than a few soft mats and wooden boards - plus musical component from saxophone, bass and drums that’s pretty awesome in its own right.
Part acrobatics, part tumbling, part dance show, part drumming demonstration and including one india-rubber-man contortionist and some joyfully received audience engagement, it fills nearly 90 minutes without need for a break or sense of over-indulgence. We were told it was to be a “relaxed” performance, in that we could leave and return to our seats whenever we liked while the show was in progress – not a good idea, really, as in the long rows of tip-up seating in this house you can’t do that without blocking the view for quite a lot of other people as you leave and return. Very few tried that anyway: you didn’t want to miss the next trick.
Kids loved it, adults gaped at it, youngsters oohed and hollered their appreciation, and the guys and two girls in the group, who really know how to work an audience, deserved their pay.
Inspired by daily life in Guinea, the show evokes the spirit of Africa, starting with the sounds of the open country by night and sharing its friendliness and its ability to do amazing things with basic resources. We can all learn from that.
More info and tickets here