JUXTAVOICES: JUST BRILLIANT

There is a large number of Rochdale-based arts organisations providing a wide range of fantastic services all across the arts. These organisations not only provide entertainment but also boost the Borough’s sense of community and help the town stand steadfast against those who come in seeking to create racial tension. Whilst there are areas of huge deprivation in the Borough, these organisations help the drive to improve levels of literacy and opportunity.

With so many local arts-projects taking place across the Borough, there was rarely any need for all across the arts to report on events from beyond our borders. Sometimes, though, all across the arts needed to explore and to look at what else is ‘out there’ so that we could work with our local artists to develop their own art forms and respond to new innovations.

It was for that reason that we once went to see a Sheffield-based group called Juxtavoices perform in a church in Whalley Range.

This was a thought-provoking, engaging, dramatic but ever-so-slightly-uncomfortable experience. However, it was precisely what art should be; challenging, reflective and dislocating. Voices, struggling to articulate thought and emotion, whispered and screamed and seduced and accosted from nowhere as a setting sun slanted through a stained-glass window scene of crucifixion. Some of the words were spoken from the head, others sung from the heart and others wrenched and torn from the soul of Mankind. At times the words clashed in discordant, primeval white-noise, (though I know that phrase is both incongruous and anachronistic) and at others sounded like the coherent aspirations of founding fathers of a newer world.

Darkness descended and shadow changed this ‘imaginate’ landscape so that, as members of this thirty-odd strong antechoir (as they call themselves) moved stealthily through the pews and peoples congregated there, they seemed to be ghostly, of no substance; wanderers forever, leaving only echoes in the air that were the here-and-gone warnings we all hear each day.

Juxtavoices, here in rehearsal,
created a dystopian soundscape in performance

We heard whispers of danger, accusation, fear and suspicion and we, the individuals hearing those words, were left to interpret them and to prioritise them in our own way.

This was theatre of the mind, so carnival-esque as to be almost grotesque. It seemed astonishing at the end of the show, (though in truth it was more revelation than show) that these characters who had seemed so wearied, so beaten, so blind, so lame, so hungry and so poor, so pleading for liberation from conformity and yet so pleading to be part of a caring society, were simply artists and writers delivering a performance they hoped might give us all more self-awareness and create more tolerance.

This performance was all a comment, perhaps, on how we deal with dementia, respect our elders, and learn to live together, whatever our ethnicity or religion, in trust. Juxtavoices in many ways delivered a soundscape of our lives.

This was, truly, exceptional. What we saw was poetry being used in a new way, and delivered as broken snippets of overheard conversation, some of it repeated over and over in mantra-like pleas or statements of affirmation or simple requests for help.

We drove home remembering, for some reason, films like Network with Peter Finch but our heads were filled, too, with the opening scenes of Under Milk Wood.

This was a technique we had seen employed only briefly by Rochdale writers, when Touchstones Creative Writing Group and Spiral Dance had created words for the Dance Meets Sport showcase earlier in the year. Just Poets and the Touchstones Creative Writing Group even explored how to persuade Juxtavoices to consider a collaborative performance.

The forum of Rochdale borough revenue-funded arts organisations held later that week was buzzing with talks of new initiatives and it is inevitable that some adventurous productions will struggle to capture mainstream audiences.

However, all across the arts will always applaud the courage of artists seeking to deliver their art form in new ways, with the same courage as shown by Juxtavoices with their full-on, even almost confrontational deliveries. A visit to their site at  https://www.facebook.com/juxtavoiceschoir/

would be a rewarding journey, and you can find much of interest about them, too, at the BBC artists´ pages. Formed by Martin Archer in 2010, this Yorkshire based so-called antechoir has open membership for all singers and orators respective of their levels of training and expertise. Voices are often allowed to determine the shape of a performance as it proceeds through a mix of simple musical scores, recited poetry and improvisation. Performance pieces usually simply emerge from workshop rehearsal exercises designed to increase group confidence and sense of adventure through improvised non-standard techniques.

That first time I saw them made a massive impact on me. A few nights later Steve Bewick and I created and presented a sixty minute all across the arts programme devoted to them on Crescent Community Radio and Steve also included frequent references to them on his Jazz programmes on fcum radio, broadcasting on line.

Later that same year my own poetry performance group, Just Poets, slightly adapted (ie slavishly followed) a Juxtavoices-styled performance of original material for a National Poetry Day event in Blackburn Cathedral to an audience of around six hundred people.  The ´show´ we delivered certainly had a more profound impact than our usual more refined readings of traditional and original poetry. Juxtavoices don´t accept a soporific audience but instead look to create involvement and reaction.

Had we stayed on our own territory, rather than follow Sidetracks And Detours all across the arts, we might never have found out how dramatic these almost flash-mob style performances can be. So, if you like your arts to be provocative, engaging and even somewhat disturbing, look out for a Juxtavoices performance near you.

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