Iara Solano Arana stands in a black dress and dons a blonde wig. Lit from the side she is bathed in a yellow hue as she presses her lips against the microphone that crackles and sparks at the contact. Oozing sexiness, Arana begins to describe women depicted in flickering black and white movies – the women of grainy old love songs – and in time she offers herself to us: “I’ll be whatever you want me to be”, she says. As the Flames Rose we Danced to the Sirens, the Sirens is both beautiful and tragic in its simplicity and Arana’s performance is endearing. Like a warm embrace, the piece envelops the audience, seducing them into the darkness of the performance space.
Sleepwalk Collective, which has grown in the past two years, has won a Total Theatre Award and is a BE Festival First Place and Best Performance winner, and its members are now performing in the Barbican Pit Theatre. The journey from fledgling company emerging from Rose Bruford College to award-winning and Barbican-performing has been watched closely by this reviewer having first seen their work in 2006. Some six years later and the captivating allure of their work still sees me wide-eyed and mouth ajar.
…the Sirens is a solo performance piece that looks at women in pop culture with all their fakery and false smiles, the sort of smiles that crack and fade with time. Arana, with microphone in hand, weaves a poetic but fractured commentary on the desires caught in black and white films: the desires to be kissed, loved by a man and loved by an audience. She caresses the microphone across her body and sips wine, enacting different visions of love and lust. She is a man trying to seduce a woman to bed, a solider drinking his last drink and a woman in hysterics. The interplay between the real and imagined worlds is engaging.
Sammy Metcalfe’s direction sees representations of women in their most helpless states, being tied up and abandoned on train tracks, for instance, with no hero to rescue the damsel in distress. It’s in the mocking presentation – the toy train set that doesn’t crush the women but drives into her mouth; the magician’s assistant forced to cut her own body using a tiny saw – that makes …the Sirens both comedic and tragic. Desperate to become part of the projection of black and white film, Arana covers herself in powder and dances until the characters form on her body, but she’ll never be part of the grainy footage. She is a woman destined to be in the present tense: the here, not the then.
In the darkness of the Barbican Pit Theatre Sleepwalk Collective’s compelling storytelling, together with original music by Esme Squalor which underscores the piece, makes for a captivating show. Sleepwalk Collective brings something tangible and thrilling to the London stage.
As the Flames Rose we Danced to the Sirens, the Sirens is playing at the Barbican Pit Theatre until 17 November. For more information and tickets, see the Barbican Theatre website.