Actor Olwen Fouere is suspended in mid-air like a chrysalis but it would be interesting to see what kind of butterfly could possibly emerge from this embryo. Bristling with wires and lights, Fouere morphs constantly into new shapes and positions, sometimes flying Sweeney-like around the stage, sometimes barely moving at all but constantly giving off a plangent, echoing wall of sound.
This is Angel/Babel, Operating Theatre's first show since 1988 and, like many of its previous productions, it unites Fouere and composer Roger Doyle in a piece of theatre which places itself firmly at the crossroads of performance art, theatre, music and movement. Joining the pair to devise Angel/Babel are US director Leon Ingulsrud, who works with the influential movement-based Saratoga theatre company S.I.T.I., and lighting and stage designer Paul Keogan. "To me, this creature, Angel/Babel, is best described by something Olwen said," says Ingulsrud. "Imagine there was a big pile of cables and wires in your basement all giving off energy and you went down there one day and this creature had been created which was influencing your whole building and you didn't even know. That is Angel/Babel."
Images of Babel have influenced Doyle's music for over a decade while Fouere has wanted to explore the idea of a character formed from "the detritus of everything" for some years. "Angel/Babel is the embodiment of all message systems; something organic that has come out of the energy given off by the constant exchange of information. The piece is non-linear in that there is no narrative but there is a path, there is something that's born," she says.
That path is communicated as much by Doyle's sound and music as it is by text, movement and light. Fouere uses a system of pulleys to manipulate herself through the air, but much of the other manipulation is done offstage. In addition to the words spoken by Fouere and to the pre-recorded music, there is a live aspect to the creation of Angel/Babel's sound narrative. Fouere has sensors attached to her fingers and neck and her minute movements trigger pre-recorded sounds and voices while the computer is also activated by a certain pitch of voice.
"It's a multi-layered piece that stands by itself each night as the computer reacts differently all the time," explains Ingulsrud. "The technology has not existed until the last couple of years, to do this kind of performance. There is one performer on stage and three people in the sound box, yet most of the input is dictated by Olwen."
Angel/Babel opens at the Project @ the Mint on Wednesday