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> > > The Basement presents Sick! a Festival of Contemporary Performance
photo of a blue striped duvet covering an unseen person.

A still from Mental by the vacuum cleaner

A new festival starts in Brighton this weekend. John O’Donoghue looks into the background of Sick! and highlights some of the must-see events.

It could either be a term of outrage or approbation. But Sick! – the exclamation mark is not a typo – is actually a new festival kicking off this weekend in Brighton. Running from 1st to 16th March, Sick! is an ambitious international cross-art form festival that “seeks out new ways of talking about and dealing with the experience of sickness of all kinds”. Featuring artists from Switzerland, Holland, Italy, Germany, and the UK  the organisers hope that this will be the first of a major annual festival.

“Sick! is aimed at anyone who has ever been sick, cared for someone who is sick or struggled to find the right words to talk about these difficult issues,” Tim Harrison, part of the brains behind Sick! told me when I met him at The Basement. “Being sick is a very individual experience and at the same time it’s a universal one. Helen Medland, our Artistic Director and myself, were aware of a number of artists currently working in this area. We wanted to bring them together to spark a conversation about a subject people aren’t naturally very good at talking about.”

Highlights of the festival include Bobby Baker, who will be hosting the Sick! Supper Club, showcasing the work of medical students and artists who’ve taken part in her day-long workshop and will offer ‘an exuberant celebration of peculiar, problematic and provocative bodies’. Her own show Mad Gyms and Kitchens plays later in the festival and is a ‘wellness roadshow’ that investigates how to get better at feeling better.

Eleonora is another standout show. Written by Jochem Stavenuiter from Holland and directed by Hans Man in’t Veld, Eleonora is Stavenuiter’s mother. He was fifteen when she had a stroke and as a result lost her memory. Exploring themes of identity, forgetting, and dignity Stavenuiter gives an honest and insightful performance.

From Italy comes Parkin’son, winner of the Premio Eqilibrio Roma 2011. Here father and son Guilio and Stefano D’Anna tell the story of their relationship in a piece devised for two very different bodies, a 62 year old therapist with no dance experience and a 31 year old choreographer. An intimate series of movements reveals the strictures set by age and youth, and the limitations imposed by Parkinson’s. But as the piece progresses these limitations become opportunities to tell stories and illuminate the moments that make existence memorable. Not to be missed.

The piece I’m keenest to see is Mental by the vacuum cleaner. Deliberately confrontational the vacuum cleaner presents an autobiographical performance told through his psychiatric records, police intelligence files and corporate injunctions collected through the Data Protection Act. The show contains material some may find challenging and is not suitable for people under 16. There is limited capacity in The Basement for this show, so I would advise booking early.

With a full programme of films, performance, dance, digital art, talks, discussions, debates, and free events Sick! has received funding and support from a wide range of partners including the Wellcome Trust, Brighton and Hove, the Arts Council, the NHS, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, and the Live Art Development Agency, to name only a few.

I’ll be reviewing events in the festival and getting behind-the-scenes news in the days to come. Your views, as ever, welcome.

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