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Artists and companies selected for the cross-art form four-day event represent the cutting edge of music, theatre, dance, live art, circus and street arts from around the country. Many international and international promoters, producers, programmers, artistic directors and venue managers were invited to see extracts from leading artists’ latest productions and new and developing work.
The Showcase week which followed saw a range of performers demonstrating drama, music, comedy, dance, puppetry and often a mash up of all sorts of theatre styles all devised through the most astounding imagination and creativity.
All of this contributed further to the case for placing diverse work firmly in the heart of what the mainstream has to offer. You can read DAO reviews from Trish Wheately, Colin Hambrook, Amerdeep Sohi, Monika Richards, Gary Thomas and John O'Donoghue, of a selection of the 50 performances which took place at decibel by scrolling down the page and clicking on the links to the right of this page.
Brian Lobell spins a yarn, a tale and a hoop while giving his audience a feel of his life experiences. Testicular cancer and its treatment is not a subject about which you'd normally expect to get an audience roaring with laughter. He has a way of playing with an audience and their fears which is infectious and ultimately very entertaining. Before inviting volunteers to engage in this examination, he explains that he wants an appreciation.
In his blurb, Brian Lobel says that he hopes to 'expand the conversation around cancer and bring attention to illness as an identity-shaping force.' As such 'Ball' takes cancer out of the taboo closet and places it firmly in your hand.
It is a performance which explains how illness disables you by virtue of the fact that your body, including your most intimate parts, becomes the property of a myriad of strangers.
Ultimately 'Ball' is very, very funny by virtue of Brian Lobel's presence and charisma as a virtuoso storyteller. Paul Pris’s 'Urashima Taro' is an elegantly staged piece blending traditional Japanese mythology with puppet theatre and shadow play. Performer Aya Nakamura floats across the performance space, which is bare except for three screens and a small table centre stage. And for all the interactions to take place between a puppet and a live actor only pointed up the subtext of the play: to paraphrase Picasso, women are either puppets, or puppet-masters. As the piece develops so the rest of the company enter into a more supporting role with some exciting choreography.
But the construction of the narrative behind the work is unclear.A  Why are the company so intentionally antagonistic at first, and then not? I’ve followed StopGAP for many years and have always been impressed by their ability to adapt, and to take on new challenges. The lights were dimmed and the audience hushed and from off stage a lone voice sounded out of the darkness. The whole set was completely entrancing and Freedom Singer deserved every bit of the standing ovation with which the audience responded. Adelaide Herculine Barbin was a French hermaphrodite whose memoirs have inspired this moving piece of theatre about a reality which is rarely discussed let alone presented in performance. The script is sharp and poetic, while Leaver flits between vulnerability and defiance with ease and finesse.
Memoirs of a Hermaphrodite is a piercing piece about a minority who are rarely seen or heard.
The objectification of her body was through me, the audience member, the voyeur.A  The invisibility was made clear by the medical jargon of the doctor, the nurse and the mother, who thought it best she become a man. There were some real gems and subtle moments in which the character postures her body as man, as woman, back to a man in plain underwear, making the gendersA  visible and invisible. The setting of the period and when she clothed herself as a man could be seen as also ambiguous - skinny trousers, generous white shirt and a very fitted jacket with frills from the waist and hips. The red finger nail on her left hand and the shirt on her right side beautifully displayed the dialogue between a prostitute and a soldier.
I felt accused as an audience member regarding my privilege and made aware of my own prison.
It made me think of another figure who was objectified for her otherness in the 18th century, Little Sarah or Black Venus, an enslaved woman of South Africa. I recognise that I may do injustice here as I am aware of having seen an abridged version and it must have been difficult to decide upon which parts to showcase in order to provide a cohesive picture. Timberlina began the proceedings with a question to the audience, asking what we would save if it came to having to save the earth.
The esoteric and scarily charismatic David Hoyle (dressed head to toe in alien black topped off with sculptural hat) takes the stance that the human race doesn’t deserve saving. However, we got the full fourteen minutes of Alternative Miss World 2009, Fancy Chance’s response to the question. The performance stepped into seriousness as she proceeded to take her clothes off and tell part of a life story of abandonment.
It may have been the venue, the context or simply my frame of mind but it took me a while to work out what I thought of Fancy’s contribution and how it responded to the saving of the earth. In explanation, after the show, Nathan Evans told us his intention to put the idea about saving the planet out to a series of local-based artists as the performance comes together and goes on the road. The gang consists of Harry the Hacker (Ali Gadema), Tyler (Ben Mellor), Black Slate (Martin Stannage), Scroupier (Niven Ganner) and Triple-Word (Samira Arhin). Written by James Gaddas and performed by Jonathan Collis-Scurll, the piece centres around the boxer Flynn’s shot at the middleweight title. The show opens on a set dominated by a punch bag dangling from the ceiling, the small space at once doubling as gym, ring, corner, and the places boxers hang out – bars, casinos, parks. This is Raging Bull confronting a much bigger taboo than Jake La Motta’s brutalising.
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century.
The book was first published in 1952 and now nearly 60 years later Crying In The Wilderness brings the opening of the novel, the Prologue, to the stage.
It is my sincere hope that Paul Morris, Artistic Director of Crying In The Wildreness, will be inundated with invitations to tour the production.
While decibela€™s Showcase is the place for performers, writers, artists, directors and so on to present work which is tour-ready or a€?nearly therea€™, the event also provides space and opportunity for people to pitch ideas for future productions and performances.
This ambiguous statement introduces the idea of an intriguing psychological thriller, and the first of the pitches I saw to actually use an extract from the piece being presented.
In brief, the plot is this: what if you murdered your twin but then got mixed up about who was who? Ben and Rachel’s initial seemingly formal pitch for the project was interrupted by the voice of Angie, a sparky teenager who is hard of hearing and dreams of being a superhero. Her chatter was displayed on to a screen, while Ben drew a picture on a flip board of what he imagines she would look like in this role. That said, the appeal of it lies in the fact that it taps into the superpower fantasy of all children. The Moor Project – Two Gents Productions (Amardeep Sohi) Two Gents Productions set the bar high. By their own definition, the production would be a low maintenance affair, requiring only a bench, a stage and some white paint.
I’m sure their pitch and concept will certainly have elicited the interest of the crowd who came to see it. Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall is best known to those in the know for translating the Qu’ran into English. I was fascinated watching the percussionist revealing his array of equipment used for each song. At one point she invited us to sing along giving us easy words in Dualla and you could tell that Coco was accomplished in getting the audience to participate.
As immigration continues to be a topical subject, it will no doubt continue to inspire the arts. So I’m not going to write a traditional review, as it will reduce the power of the piece for those who might see it in the future.
The thrill of promenade pieces is that you never know what to expect until you’re in that space. Theatre is most effective when it moves you, thrusts you across boundaries and forces self-reflection. As we trundle towards another reform of the NHS, so Laurence Clark’s Health Hazard gives us a glimpse of what the landscape might look like with privatised health care from the point of view of a father of two with cerebral palsy.
He begins with research on attitudes to health care through a series of slides and short clips of interviews with the average American on the street. The piece de resistance of Clark’s brand of sit-down comedy is a series of clips of him attempting to buy health care in the US.
Kat Francois has to look for Lazarus before she can raise his memory and recall forgotten history. In a late night showcase at the Zion Arts Centre, Francois told the story of Lazarus, and her attempts to raise him, to put flesh on the bones of a man who was almost written out of history. Lazarus was shipped over to Seaford on the south coast of England after the King had formally welcomed the formation of the British West Indian.
Francois turned up a number of poignant documents during her researches, including poetry written by members of the regiment, the reports made by the nurses who treated them for conditions like pneumonia in Seaford, military records of the men’s service in Britain and across the Channel. Francois is a skilled performer, creating characters as diverse as her Grenadian grandmother, the nurse who tended the soldiers in Seaford, and girls she was at school with – the kind of girls who give you a hard time because they think they can. Irresistible worked beautifully in a stage setting, creating a superbly atmospheric piece of musical theatre. And at that point we see two hobos huddled around a limp fire in a bucket, desperately trying to warm their hands. Irresistible presents a uniquely original take on compulsion, with a blues set annotated by Jez Colbourne’s fascination with the sound of wailing sirens, whose call is incorporated into a song-cycle evoking feelings of yearning, loss and redemption. In the Q+A afterwards, artistic director Tim Wheeler talked about Mind the Gap’s intention to show Irresistible as a spectacular piece of promenade theatre. Jez Colbourne’s captivating material skilfully weaves the musicality of the warning siren and would create an unforgettable dramatic experience in such a remote environment as a quarry or a mine.

The sexual exploitation of children will always be a subject matter that needs to be approached with sensitivity, and as nimble silhouettes move silently behind a white screen, it’s clear that Contact Theatre have adopted a subtle, yet powerful approach. Her vulnerability screams through her tough façade, a state which is enforced further by her dependence on the three male bodies that support her physically.
The use of movement for storytelling is inspired and the perfect tool to illustrate the effects of circumstances that run deeper than the spoken word. But the subtlety of the production does not take away any of the shock surrounding these stories.
Crystal Kisses is effortlessly powerful in its treatment of a most troubling subject matter. So Ailis’s piece, presented here as a work in progress, plays out, and the mood is set for a couple who are speaking entirely in sign language as text appears on screen.
The music, using just two guitars and composed by Ailis, evoked an atmosphere of the couple arguing and words (though not the words they are signing) appear on screen.
While it was clear the couple were in conflict, the words printed on the screen evoked something else. The upshot is that people who don’t read sign language will get a different show from those who do. There were some views expressed on whether the piece worked well with the text on the screen and I’d imagine for those who are not able to understand the sign language the piece could be frustrating. That said, hearing audiences don’t tend to have issues with accessibility in theatre, so perhaps this is a provocative role reversal. Brief-Blue-Electric-Bloom is certainly based upon an interesting premise and it’s one sure to create debate about the future of accessible theatre and spoken-word entertainment in all its forms.
What a great exponent of the Creative Case for Diversity Arun Ghosh is, leading a band which fuses traditional African and Indian instruments and idioms into contemporary, relevant and lively music. The kora playing and tender vocals were a welcome variation in contrast to the bigger sound of the whole band.
Overall it was a hugely enjoyable experience and I look forward to hearing more from this group of musicians.
Bose himself is familiar with all three metropolises: he spent some of his early years in Bombay, lived in New York from the age of 18, and now resides in London. I found the breakneck pace of the showcase at once exhilarating and something which made it difficult to keep up with the piece. The first time I saw Company Chameleon perform was at the decibel showcase 2007 and I was bowled over by their fusion of Parcour street dance and theatre exploring immigration.
Company Chameleon’s tour-ready work of Search and Find was meant to be performed outdoors. The piece started quietly with one male dancer entering the space and moving his limbs one by one as if experimenting with poses and angular positions. Search and Find was daring in its vulnerability in honestly interrogating friendship and love between two men.
On Thursday morning in the Conference Hall of Manchester Town Hall four companies pitched short ten-minute extracts from their work to bookers, fellow artists, and delegates.
First up was Jane Sekonya-John and the creative team behind Keuse (Choice).A  The project involves two dancers, Jane Sekonya-John herselfA  and Mamela Nyamza, working with spoken word artist OneNess Sankara.
In the city of the Hacienda Avant Garde Dance presented a brilliant pitch for their show Ilegal Dance. Zena Edwards’ was on next, her haunting voice stilling the room as her clear voiceA  sang about mothers and heartbreak. This was reputedly the biggest and best showcase yet, promoting diverse practice in the performing arts sector. 50 artists and companies have been chosen to present work that is either tour-ready, work-in-progress or at a stage for pitching.
DAO plans to comment further on the booking of artists’ work and collaborations that lead to further creative output.
This day-long symposium enabled invited speakers from not only the UK but from organisations [from all over the world to put their perspective on the place for the Creative Case in the arts. However Brian Lobel did just that with a piece of brilliant personal storytelling, following events over the last ten years of his life, since having contracted the illness at the tender age of 22.
The show contains an intimate 'Enya' moment when the lights go down and he asks his audience to get in touch with their intimate parts.
This means a 'medical appreciation' in the form of a single word which will describe the shape, texture and so on of this one remaining intimate part of his anatomy. This supports various characters in the form of puppets in a tale of a poor fisherman who falls under the spell of a mysterious turtle-woman.
That the power plays between parents and children, men and women, the world of reality and the world of artifice run deep in our psyches.
Nakamura’s self-effacing performance highlighted the lifelike quality of the puppets to such an extent that at times she seemed to be the puppet. For Nakamura to be the puppet-master in the show and to manipulate the fisherman, the turtle-woman’s mother, and the other characters she introduces is to subtly underline the subversiveness of this production. The deftness and sheer athleticism of the way the company’s five dancers move as one is at times breath-taking. It begins with Pedro Navarrete’s beautiful score on harpsichord that at turns moves between solemnity and freneticism. The movement is at its most lyrical when all four other dancers begin to work with Jones rather than in conflict with her. To a large extent it seems the audience is left to interpret what the dynamic behind the interaction means.
Laura Jones’s body language is pivotal to interpretation and here the messages about conflict, alienation and isolation felt somewhat muddy.
SPUN Productions - the piece of work they presented at this year's Liberty event on London’s Southbank on 3 September, was a thoughtfully layered, entertaining reflection on the banalities of reality television and celebrity culture. There was a real connectedness and chemistry between each of the four musicians and their love and enjoyment of the music was obvious. As a classically trained musician and self-confessed music obsessive, I have tended to enjoy music for melody and harmony and I appreciate voice as sound rather than for the meaning in the language the lyrics provide. She deserves a very wide fan base and if she doesn't get many, many bookings based on her performance at decibel's Showcase 2011, I will be very surprised indeed.
The piece, which was cut down to fit into the 25 minute slot given to those presenting their work at the decibel Showcase, weaves together the difficulties and realities of the condition in a typically French setting. A dimly lit and sparse stage are adorned with just a child’s chair, a lamp, a candlestick, and a clothes stand. Her performance is accentuated by the spotlights which douse the body, which sits somewhere between male and female. Her fear and anxiety were palpable since there was no means of escape for she was in a cage for a show.A  She was distressed, exposed, vulnerable being gawped at for two genders and yet was invisible. The interplay of seduction and anxiety was both tender and sinister and hinted at a desire to be loved while being afraid to be loved. I wanted to know how the character negotiated the space that was owned, possibly reclaimed, or at least was trying to be. I was not sure however whether the character came to a place of empowerment and how this may inform my own.
This compels me now to look out for the full production and see that before I make up my mind about the show and become more informed about a subject I know little about. This became a starting point for five quite different theatre cabaret acts which use a variety of formats from game-show to Live Art and video. We’ve messed it up with capitalism and inequality and the jam has definitely passed its sell-by date.
She was literally left in a box as a baby and survived as best she could in a journey which took her from Korea to the US to the UK . These are perhaps the 'unmentioned unmentionables' in the last section of the performance, which leads finally to an Alice moment at the end the show! And of course, it was quite simply a statement about the value of empathy as a saving grace in her life… and what I interpreted as a question about the possibility of empathy as the ultimate potential saviour of the planet. I can see it forging into something inspirational, entertaining, damnable even… I wish him the best of luck with it. Not an activity usually associated with a group of criminals but unconventional appears to be the birthmark of this wordy theatre company. In Shock and Awe Tours’ Showcase production for decibel 2011, Shadow Boxing, we witness what the scars on the inside feel like.
For what bigger fight could anyone have than the fight to be truly themselves in a world as extreme as the world of boxing? Giving a pitch-perfect performance the Invisible Man, played with skill and passion by George Eggay, tells of his struggles with white society, where the inner eyes of those who look upon him have not been calibrated to register what they see with their outer eyes when they look upon a black man.
Amardeep Sohi sat in on two such pitches and here gives us a flavour of what might be on show in a tour-ready format at a later date. The work will be ready however by Spring 2012 and Simon is looking for smaller venues and co-producers to help it on its way.
The giant screen, the flip board and the sound of this determined teenager demonstrated the emphasis on creativity and participation from imaginative young minds.
They pitched the idea of The Moors, a play about the Black characters in Shakespeare’s plays.
But it’s also likely to raise issues surrounding race, as they plan to whiten the faces of the Black actors. For Sarah herself, before embarking on her search for him, she knew him by seeing Dame Edna Everage mentioning Säid The Fisherman on Parkinson. She’s looking to perform in interesting spaces, including Mosques, as well as studio spaces. She sang in Dualla, her native Cameroonian language, accompanied by an acoustic guitar and percussion.
He brought out a number of rain pipes which provided a vision of sitting in a lounge during the rainy season.

Another Country from Community Arts North West however  does more than present a story. But anyone who allows themselves to be fully immersed into the experience of Another Country will most likely have the same reaction. He asks randomly chosen people what they think of our NHS and builds a mind-boggling picture of wary Americans who believe health care in the UK resembles a Mussolini-led socialist service.
As Francois says, the history syllabus in the UK is full of Tudors, Victorians, Nazis even, but had nothing about the background to the story of Private Lazarus Francois.
As an exercise in recovering hidden histories which tell a very different story from those in the official text books this is a fine piece. But I would equally recommend the stage performance with its powerful use of theatrical effects. The ever-present silhouettes provide a threatening backdrop to the stories playing out on stage, and at times they become almost cinematic. And it was great to see a piece of work which puts sign language not only in the centre of the piece but at the forefront of it as the subject matter itself. This unique form of theatre presented here means it is accessible, and understandable, on a number of different levels.
These influences are all mixed into the melting pot to produce a wonderfully rich sound like that of a big band but with a distinctly world music flavour which suggests a celebration of all the great aspects of the diversity within the modern multicultural Britain that we are living in.
His solos were impressively technical and were carried off with skill and a high degree of musicality. I would definitely want to hear the bass clarinet and vibraphone featured more in the whole set as I thought they were not really given enough exposure in this showcase. In a kaleidoscopic show he tells the story of Kalagora’s odyssey through a world we think we know. A bare stage with film of Bombay playing overhead opened Bose’s showcase, part one-man poetry slam, part Doing The Voices. Just as Shakespeare coined new words borrowed from other languages and made the stage a Pentecostal Tower of Babel so Bose has Kalagora speak a language at once as English as any Oxford Don’s, and as foreign as Bengali or Hindi might be to the same Oxford Don. I therefore very much looked forward to seeing their latest work at this year’s event.
The hesitating walk engaged me quite suddenly as it expressed so accurately an uncertainty of direction and isolation. It had the quality of the droning sound of drum and bass which emphasised an emotion of being deeply alone.
I imagine that the piece would even gain more poignancy if it was performed in an outdoor space on the street. Drawing on the lives of three women from both South Africa and Britain the piece explores the inter-generationalA  stories of these women. Making full use of the minstrel gallery, the small stage, and the aisles between the audience’s chairs the company outlined a future in which Government Proclamation bans all forms of dance and a resistance movement comes into being.
Sitting on a stage dressed in pale brown suit with Nehru collar Patel addresses the audience in Mandarin while Shelly Maxwell translates. Edwards can do it all – she can write, act, sing and her pitch showed off all her talents. This bi-annual event aims to more fully represent and reflect the different cultures and backgrounds that make our country unique in the world.
A series of complementary activities for delegates also took place alongside the showcase performances.
DAO writers will be continuing to reflect on the Creative Case as time goes by to trace how theory merges with practice and what outcomes they see emerging from Art Council's initiative.
But by far the most dangerous and provocative part of the show is where he gets five - note five - members of the audience to come up on stage and have a discreet feel of his one ball remaining after surgery (whilst using a large flannel towel to maintain his modesty from the rest of the audience).
During this part of the performance one of the extrovert folk who obliged Brian described the testicle as ‘amorphous'.
We initially see Laura Jones sat behind a table before she is drawn into a series of conflicting moves with David Wildridge. The audience gets to see the intention behind how she uses her hands to manipulate her legs. From this point, a beautiful, original performance was absolutely mesmerising from the outset. The mix of jazz, classical, folk and many other genres in between surpringly resulted in a wonderful simplicity.
These objects accompany Leaver as she steps into a nunnery, a freak show and the darkened Parisian lanes. I wanted to interrogate my assumptions about gender and whether I am part of the process of marginalising that which is different and other to me.
How interesting how nowadays dressing in skinny jeans is now represented by both genders and could be seen as both feminine and masculine. I was unsure what this means for me in this contemporary context and how things have or haven’t moved on. She explained how her performance revolves around a game show where she gets her audience to bid for the things about the earth and humanity that need saving. His engagement with the audience is about asking the audience why they would save humanity. Unfortunately showcasing the work-in-progress necessitated us inevitably being fed a bite-size chunk of the idea of the show rather than the thing itself.
At decibel Showcase 2011 they offered an abridged version of their 70 minute show in which a group of gangsters battle it out to win the ultimate game of scrabble. He now has to confront not only the brutality of boxing, but the brutality of attitudes to homosexuality inside and outside the ring. Drawing on Black American history from the time of Emancipation and figures like Booker T Washington, W E DuBois, and Marcus Garvey, Invisible Man is a seminal novel, its central trope of invisibility a brilliant metaphor for the situation of Black Americans up to and including the era of Obama. This was reflected in the style of her show which was informed by lazy Brazilian rhythms, sometimes bluesy or jazzy, with undertones of a folksy character. I enjoyed the relaxed approach while Coco did her musical story telling of journeys and life. But we found ourselves in minutes becoming the background chorus to her song of sending a child on a right path – very appropriate for these times.
I started off intrigued and distant; sat with my notebook in hand, scribbling away my observations. Clark points out that the number of complaints about NHS treatment in the UK is on a par with the number of people who die in the States because they don’t have health insurance. Kat Francois only got to know about them when she was trying to find out about Private Lazarus Francois, her Grenadian ancestor. It’s another disturbing scene, but made even more of an impression by the lack of dialogue. The final piece of the performance, his own composition, had flare and really got to the core of what this group is about. I think these will offset his grotesques and picaresques and bring out the full flavour of Kalagora's experiences.
This movement was intensified by him being joined by another male dancer, both halting as they met face to face, catching each other’s gaze with both hostility and at the same time a desire to connect.
The dancers and movements gained in speed and complexity which repeated and escalated the confrontational nature of the piece. Fast-moving, with everything from pat-a-cake to ballet, from hip-hop to monologue, what the show lacked at this early stage in coherence it made up for in energy.
These ranged from introductory forums for first-time attendees, to an industry marketplace and panel discussions on issues such as diversity, touring and presenting work, or best practice for the sector.
Brian responded by giving his audience a great opportunity to laugh at themselves: 'Arts professionals,' he says.
The rest of the company come into play and as the drama builds so the table is upturned and Jones emerges naked, so to speak, without her wheelchair. Ayanna’s accomplishment of playing complex combinations of bowing, pizzicato and percussion on the cello whilst delivering an impressive vocal was jaw dropping. I found a real value beyond cerebral appeciation in the way that Ayanna appropriated this important historical text so successfully and soulfully.
Their five-minute pitch was well thought out and struck the right balance between highlighting both their vision and ability.
Her journey took her to the Public Records Office, the Commonwealth Graves Commission, and back to Grenada.
A full moon appears in the distance and a roaring sea falls into place on the count of a series of heavy beats, dramatically filling the auditorium.
The two men blocked each other’s ways and they began to struggle as the only way to connect and communicate. As a passerby, I would stop instantly to watch this performance and, when continuing to walk on, I would be looking more closely at how men meet and negotiate public space.
The company are off to the Albany Empire in Deptford to further develop the piece and it will be interesting to see how the various elements will all hang together in the final production. This piece drew lots of laughter and Patel and Maxwell make a very good, very postmodern double act.
DAO reserves the right to edit or remove comments that don't comply with our editorial policy, which you can find on DAOs 'About' pages. All these instruments were subtly accompanying and providing texture for Coco’s voice, which seemed to travel easily over the acoustic guitar and percussion.
This burst out into violent confrontation was intersected with synchronised movements, leaning and carrying each other, taking on positions that only could be supported by two people.
Despite the athletic street moves and contemporary rapid dance, there was a quietness underneath it all, emphasised by the music.

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