Preview: ‘VOID’-Transforming Tramway


Forbes-Broomes in VOID; picture contributed.

 Coming to Tramway in May, VOID , based on the themes in JG Ballard’s novel Concrete Island is a thrilling, innovative cross-disciplinary dance piece created in collaboration between dancer Melanie Forbes-Broomes and multi-media artists Bex Anson and Dav  Bernard (who are part of the much-loved Glasgow-based arts collective 85A). Taking in typically Ballardian themes of dystopian worlds, transformed spaces and urban paranoia, Forbes-Broomes will perform within a stunning visual landscape. The collaborators explain more about the process of creating such an ambitious piece, and where it’s likely to next appear.

Melanie Forbes-Broomes: VOID has been an exciting new challenge. When working between concept, movement and visuals, so many ideas have been brought to light; making my experience full of innovation.

With my sole partner on the stage primarily being the AV lighting from David Bernard, I have been learning to mould and manouevre with the imagery, striving to create a natural symbiosis between us. The feeling of isolation Ballard expresses in Concrete Island, Crash and High Rise is something many can relate to in a variety of ways. This is something I am aiming to highlight and represent in VOID.

Dav Bernard: To create the video landscape for VOID, I selected a bunch of obsolete Ballard (Urban Disaster Series) -era video processors, and interconnected them in a complex network to generate a series of vibrant minimalist compositions characterised by the unstable nature of video feedback and the recognisable hard lines and crude colour palette that perfectly styles our story in its intended 70s era (somewhere between 60s psych/op-art and 80s 8-bit pixelation).

This ‘video instrument’ is great to manually produce continually expanding (generative) imagery with a vast amount of live control on colour, minimal shapes, textures and noise generation, but it is so chaotic that it is almost impossible to replicate the same composition twice.

As a result, all our visual scores have to be devised and recorded live whilst responding to Melanie’s movements during rehearsals; it is an exciting, real-time performance process and I think it comes across as being more ‘real’ than over- polished/ modern animation techniques.

We associated the signature shapes and effects the system was capable of to the key landmarks featured in the book, in order to form a basic visual grammar for our story (traffic, fence, shelter, moon, headlights). We ended up with a series of minimalist, dream-like video compositions of Melanie to interact with in each of our scenes- our own interpretation of Concrete Island ‘s waste ground.

VOID‘s musical palette nods towards experimental noise, glitch and industrial genres, but also includes a lot of softer, naturalistic tones (like field recordings) to support the dynamics of the narrative that oscillate between adversity and symbiosis, between the protaganist and his un/natural habitat. The grinding and distorted sounds seemed a good reflection of the central themes of crazed internal dialogues and physical trauma (almost like a recording of internal organs) but we also want to develop an overall cinematic feel to the piece- think of Ennio Morricone composing an Urban Disaster story with broken instruments.

Bex Anson : Having worked closely with Melanie and Dav for a number of years, I focus on the integration of the Audio- Visual and physical elements within the parameters of the Concrete Island story. The cross art form piece needs to retain an overall balance to remain engaging and readable for audiences with different expectations, and we also want to push the format, to create a performance that combines the most striking combinations of these disciplines.

The character’s psychological journey- and decay- has been explored through costumes that also become objects for manipulation, transforming when stretched and folded around Melanie’s body and when combined with projection layers, add to the skewered physical and visual concepts that Ballard explores through text.

The synergy of our collaborative creative process is based on filming, archiving and reviewing every rehearsal we do, in order to refine our process and quickly devise a scenography that we’re happy with; it’s much more fun than the traditional director’s notes session. Ballard’s story features a desolate space as a character, with so much of my previous work within 85A  based on the site-specificity, it was interesting to look at how the audience would relate to the ideas of entrapment, especially when dance audiences are so used to the comfort of the theatre.

We thought VOID would work better in non- theatre space and we devised the set to fit in small studio rooms, and let the audience experience the work at close- almost claustrophobic- range. We are also looking  forward to presenting VOID in more daring settings: in the theatre’s car park, loading bay, or even under a real motorway!


(Lorna Irvine)



At Tramway, Glasgow on May 13th and 14th.

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