Imagine gazing up at the Angel of the North as the wind whistles in from the east coast or – on the western side of England – standing among the human sculptures on Crosby beach and listening to the waves as they break on the shore. If sculpture can interact with sound, there is surely no better fit than the music of nature.
This much-heralded new show tries another tack. Hofesh Shechter, choreographer and composer, and Antony Gormley, sculptor, have come together in Survivor to create a multi-media theatrical experience. If their criteria seem to have been worryingly nebulous – Gormley talks about finding “objective correlatives to the inner world of [Shechter’s] music” – maybe that is why the end result feels so vacant.
Shechter’s music is a bit of this and a bit of that. A lone, young folk singer strums a couple of songs. There is some minimalism and drumming reminiscent of Steve Reich – much, much drumming with an army of 100 drummers who do their damndest to get the audience’s ear drums vibrating along in sympathy (the Barbican offers ear-plugs on the way in). For a few minutes a group of string-players intone a threnody over the body of the “survivor” that engages both mind and heart. For the rest, the evening’s music is a hotchpotch that adds up to less than the sum of its not-very-interesting parts.
How big a role did Gormley play in trying to visualise all this? He has spoken of sending “not very many, small, scratchy drawings … of possible rudimentary formations”, so probably not very much. Shechter will have provided the short passages of distinctive choreography and there is one intriguing scene in which the five dancers are filmed live from above, suggestively hinting at figures hanging from a crucifix. Otherwise, the stage is either left empty for the musicians or a screen descends for filmed interludes, most of them apparently sourced from the Imagination-Free Stock Library of Moving Images: a waterfall, a flock of birds, a collapsing building, a city (Baghdad?) in a night-time air raid.
Given the combined talents of its two creators and the number of art forms they have called upon – music, design, dance, film, theatre – Survivor offers thin pickings for a show that lasts almost an hour and a half.