LA FERIA DE LOS CINCO SENTIDOS/KHOL DO (THE RETURN)
BAC (Battersea Arts Centre), London SW11
Opened 10-11 June, 1997

There always seems to be a novelty food-orientated event in the London International Festival of Theatre. In past festivals the role has been filled by Bobby Baker (seen in 1995 immersing herself in a bathful of chocolate sauce); this year, however, the performance is supplied by the punters as we wander around Alicia Rios' installation La Feria de los Cinco Sentidos ("The Feast Of The Five Senses").

Moving from BAC's lobby hung with curtains of fruit and veg, from capsicums to asparagus stalks and strings of cherry tomatoes past a row of aromatised hands and through a corridor hung with enormous tinkling mobiles and thunder sheets, one is confronted in the Grand Hall by an array of vegetable fountain sculptures: torrents of leeks, cascades of shallots. Against one wall is a line of "blind" boxes into which one inserts a hand to encounter textures ranging from chalk to what I fervently hope were tubes of marshmallow. A wheel of tables in the centre offer the "Tasting Palette", a variety of foods arranged also according to texture: "airy and light", "crunchy and moist", "stretchy and rubbery" and so on. We are invited to sample these, to take lollipops from the Edible Rainbow and to fill our brightly coloured mesh doggy-bags with whatever takes our fancy a number of folk seemed especially keen on leaving with souvenir melons.

An initial air of tentative buffet gradually loosens into a bazaar atmosphere as visitors realise that everything is not just permitted but positively encouraged; one's senses are freshly whetted, not perhaps to the point of revelation, but certainly as far as it takes to have great fun. Besides, this is probably the only place in London where you will be actively exhorted to jump up and down on enormous sheets of bubble-wrap.

Upstairs in Studio Two, Khol Do (The Return) is a rather more conventional affair, and also, alas, much duller. Kathakali-trained dancer Maya Krishna Rao interprets a short story by Saadat Hasan Manto depicting the horrors of Indian partition in 1947. "Interprets" is the key word, as we are politely but firmly instructed before the show begins to read the story as printed on the programme sheet; "it will make it easier to follow", we are told, meaning that otherwise we will have no idea what we are supposed to be seeing.

The most eloquent sequences of Rao's performance are those in which she seems most closely to approach the traditional dance form; the rest of the time, slowness and deliberateness of movement are mistakenly deemed sufficient to convey the agonies of a father searching for his lost daughter. I am afraid that I found more of interest in the raga-like aspects of the soundtrack (consisting largely of pieces by Philip Glass) than in Rao's precise but largely unintelligible motions.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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