’ve been wondering recently whether religious painters actually suspended people in order to get angels in their paintings,’ muses Brith Gof director and performer Mike Pearson, ‘because they very often do get it right.’ And he should know. Los Angeles, the Welsh company’s lastest spell-binding performance , reinterprets the works of the great ecclesiastical artists by dangling actors in stunning formations high above the heads of the audience. ‘What we’ve tried to do is to be 5 articulate in the air and not at ground level,’ ' he explains. ‘It is extremely difficult to perform in the air simply because you have no points of reference. So remembering choreography, remembering actions, is very hard. You’re not doing it in relation to one surface.’
Two years after the resounding success of Goddodin, the company’s massive collaboration with Test Department which toured to festivals all over Europe, Brith Gof still singles out Glasgow with special affection. ‘Glasgow was the great success of Gododdin ,’ says Pearson. ‘The way it
worked in Glasgow was unique. I think the
16 The List 3— 16 May 1991
Welsh and proud of it, BRITH GOF returns to Glasgow with an aerodynamic spectacle in which angels fall to earth to rescue a dying planet. Ken Cockburn hangs about with the swinging company and
sees an early version of Los Angeles.
THE MEN WHO Four
political implications of it were crystal-clear to the Scottish audience.’
That show was the culmination of a three-year project called The Disasters of War, while over the past year the company has reversed the coin to look at peace. But the shift wasn’t that straightforward. ‘The problem,’ says Pearson, ‘was that while emotionally the subject matter may have been hard to take in Disasters of War, the ideas were fairly straightforward. But when you start to talk about the antithesis of it — peace — well, what actually is peace? What are the images of peace, without becoming maudlin or just completely wishy-washy?’
Angels were the answer Brith Gof was looking for. The last time the heavenly beings took centre-stage was in Wim Wender’s film Wings ofDesire, but Pearson was looking for something different. ‘I remember that point in the film when the suicide jumps off the top of the building and the angels don’t catch him,’ he says. ‘They express really human emotions, and I don’t think we do that.’
Los Angeles was first seen last year in a disused Rhymni Valley brewery. Pearson
and Marc Rees begin and end the performance hanging 30 feet up, descending in between times into an appallingly hostile environment. On the ground, the angels’ sensitivity is out of place; the water, the earth and other substances they encounter are potentially fatal. That’s hardly a problem exclusive to angels these days, and Pearson is explicit about the link to global pollution. ‘It’s all very well to say that we can abolish war,’ he says, ‘when in fact, not to be too trite, we’ve actually declared war on the planet.’
Again, unlike Wings ofDesire, these angels, being angels, aren’t too sure about human beings. ‘The angels have a message to deliver, but they don’t know the appropriate mode to deliver it in. So I will be a drunk, Marc may well be a hooker, but only for a fleeting period of time before trying to find another mode. It’s almost like turning a radio dial.’ An additional problem, he adds blithely, is that ‘the angels speak Welsh, because, after all, Welsh is the language of Heaven.’
The image of the radio dial is picked up by Gododdin composer John Hardy describing his atmospheric soundtrack. Aiming to create ‘an alien sound environment,’ he compares it to short-wave radio sounds. ‘It’s like birdsong,’ he says, ‘it seems random to the human ear, but it seems to have a purpose in it as well.’ Hardy has also worked a lot ofspeech — in unheavenly English — into the score, but almost subliminally. ‘The idea was to have a continuous verbal bombardment,’ he explains. ‘They’re there, but most of the time they’re masked or veiled by other sounds.’
He’s taken chunks of Swedenborg, an 18th century mystic, who, according to Pearson, ‘just ran out of talking to humans when he could communicate to angels so easily. He wrote enormously long texts on the natural history of angels, describing their houses, where they live, how they talk to each other and so on.’
In a development from last year’s show, thesetting is now the city of angels itself, Los Angeles, descriptions of which are slotted into Hardy’s score. These may be more factually based than Swedenborg’s musings, but their implications are equally bewildering. ‘It’s a city which is horizontal’, says Pearson. ‘It’s vertical portion is very small indeed, so it’s spreading endlessly outwards. But within that, every immigrant
community — and there are vast numbers, we
can barely imagine - is almost creating its own city. The statistics are quite staggering—
for instance it’s the third biggest Cambodian '
city in the world. Ifyou look at the geography of the city, you’ve got this conurbation, and round the outside of it is the biggest space-weapons manufacturing industry in the world. If you look at the maps, it appears to be like a series of castles, the Hughes Corporation and Edwards Air Force Base and so on all round the outside. We wanted to create a fairly unemotional text about looking at the city. I think really the point is, if angels appeared or something happened, how would we ever know in that kind of landscape?’
Los Angeles is at the Tram way, Glasgow from Fri IO—Sat 11 May.