After sitting through one and a half hours of The Porcelain Project at the Barbican Theatre last night I doubt if I will ever look at a porcelain – or, in this case, a bone china vase – in the same way again. The Belgian dance/performance group Grace Ellen Barkey & Needcompany filled the stage with hundreds of porcelain objects, mostly abstract-type vases but one or two teapots. The six dancers, some wearing what looked like space saucers, danced around, lifted up, moved and occasionally smashed pieces of the porcelain forms. The tale, of couplings and uncouplings, involved much simulated hetero and homo sex as well as much interaction with the porcelain. The soft tinkling of china fragments gently bouncing off each other was pure magic, as were some of the sequences. The strongest of these were the couples, where inventive choreography created both sensuous and crude interactions. Perfect timing, close contact and controlled movement conjured up the power of human relationships.
With no identifiable narrative, other than images of the real and the imagined, The Porcelain Project moved from sheer delight to moments of ennui. Within the performance I am still working out the role of the porcelain, though responding to its fragility and strength, its pure white translucency and its often phallic shapes seems relevant. The mixture of the surreal, the absurd and the silly made for a memorable, if over-long performance, but as Grace Ellen Barkey notes, ‘the spectators themselves have to decide the purpose of it all’.
As an alternative to the merry junketing at the International Ceramics Festival, Aberystwyth, I think The Porcelain Project could well find a place in the programme – a welcome broadening out of our understanding of the interconnectivity of the arts.