IBT17 Bristol International Festival—A field report by Joyce Rosario
March 02, 2017
The day after the 2017 PuSh Festival wrapped up, I jumped on a plane to Bristol, England to attend In Between Time 2017: Bristol International Festival, a performing arts festival not unlike PuSh that tells stories that surprise, inspire or act as a catalyst for change. Kind of a crazy thing for me to do, given that PuSh hadn’t even been finished for 24 hours yet, but since IBT only happens every two years, I couldn’t say no to the invitation to attend as part of a delegation of Canadian and American presenters, supported by the British Council.
IBT17 opened with a live art symposium entitled Can Live Art Unf**ck the World?—a timely question given that (at least in the western world) we are reeling in the wake of Brexit, the U.S. presidential election and the continued migrant crisis, not to mention what is happening environmentally from a global perspective. With all of this in mind, U.K. and international delegates were invited as panelists, with each panel preceded by an artist provocation, and everyone responding to the same propositions: What does the world look like from where you are? What tactics can we employ to unf**ck the world?
I had the pleasure of sharing a panel with Ron Berry from Austin’s Fusebox Festival, and with Judith Knight from Arts Admin, to offer a North American perspective from opposite sides of the Canada/U.S. border. In casual conversations around the symposium, I was struck by how Canada’s “sunny ways” is seen as a beacon of hope on the world stage. While I can stand behind the civility of our political leadership, we still have a lot to get right in Canada, and in my opinion, much of it has to do with undoing the legacies of colonial rule and dismantling systemic oppression.
If I had to sum up the work I saw at IBT17, and what statement it makes about how live art can unf**ck the world, it would be that women are front and centre. There was plenty of fine work by men as well, but with the current dose of patriarchy and misogyny in politics at the moment, it was the range of work by women—from outrage, profanity and catharsis in Nic Green’s Cock and Bull and Lucy McCormick’s Triple Threat, to contemplations on race in Selina Thompson’s Race Cards, to sex work and sisterhood in Rosana Cade’s My Big Sister Taught Me This Lap Dance—that gives me hope that we’ll get out of the mess we’re in.
Being at IBT17 confirmed for me what was so evident in this latest edition of the PuSh Festival: we have an overwhelming need in these difficult times to have places to be together, to have safe spaces to confront and discuss difficult ideas. More than that, contemporary performance—and live art especially—has a vital role in providing a platform for transgression by pushing form and content, and finding new structures and systems. In so doing it finds new possibilities for being more fully human.
Thank you to all of the IBT17 artists whose work I encountered, it has left an indelible mark. So it’s fitting that the only photo that I took on my trip was this one, the only traces left from a one-to-one performance by Tania El Khoury, As Far As My Fingertips Take Me, performed by Basel Zaraa sharing stories of people who have recently challenged border discrimination. The stories can be kept or washed away. Thank you to Selina Thompson, James Leadbitter, Jo Bannon, Sara Zaltash for your provocations at the symposium. Thank you to the team at In Between Time, especially Helen Cole and Joon Lynn Goh, for your fearless program.