“In 2015, when I started exploring initial feelings for a new Gecko show, I was drawn to a growing sense of powerlessness, the feeling that my power as a citizen was fragile and weakening. The most fundamental elements of our social contract were changing, even one’s human rights became the subject of discussion and alteration.”
Amit Lahav´s background
Amit Lahav is the founder and Artistic Director of Gecko, one of the UK’s foremost physical theatre companies. We’re talking about Gecko’s most recent stage show, ‘The Wedding’, and I’ve asked him to explain more about the production’s central tenet: that we are all, in some way or another, brides of society.
“What is this marriage contract I’m bound by between the state and me?” he says. “And can I get out of this? I suppose I felt like a bride forced into a marriage, and this metaphor – of being married to the state – took hold and became the starting point for exploration over the proceeding years.”
Ph: Rocio Chacon
Lahav founded Gecko in 2001 to explore notions of physicality in theatre; how performers’ bodies react and manifest onstage, and how movement can be about invigoration and endurance. Lahav and company spend years carefully developing their work, and the result is complex, dizzying, and politically compelling.
The Guardian described Gecko’s last production – 2015’s ‘Institute’ – as ‘a rich, visually stunning show’, whilst London’s Time Out magazine called their 2012 project, ‘Missing’, ‘taut, dark and largely gorgeous’. Lahav and Gecko understand the effects of a full theatrical onslaught; of using everything in a theatre’s arsenal to bombard their audiences with ideas – something that stayed with Lahav from his time working with the late actor, dancer, and David Bowie mentor Lindsay Kemp. What was he like?
“Lindsay’s attention to lighting, costume, set, props and choreography was total – no element was more important than another,” says Lahav. “I spent some years in various Kemp creations and also lived with him for a short while in Italy. I witnessed a man whose every breath was committed to transformation, connection, joy, love, passion, sensuality, and art.
Lindsay transformed the air around him and I found this fascinating and uplifting. It’s not at all who I am or how I live, but the feeling that one should live and give to every moment was extremely inspiring. I think it gave me total permission to be uncompromisingly driven as an artist and utterly focused on pursuing the greatest piece of work I could accomplish at all times. Looking back, at 25 it was a gift to meet Lindsay at that time, and we remained close friends until he passed away in 2018.”
The politics of how individuals exist within the system loom large in the Gecko canon. ‘Institute’ was a Kafka-esque examination of faceless bureaucracy, and ‘The Wedding’ looks at the currency of an overwhelming social pact.
I suggest to Amit Lahav that, with the world the way it is right now, artists have a responsibility to highlight political and social corruption and exploitation. Is this something he feels like a theatre director? And how can artists contribute to changing things for the better? “I believe the role of an artist is to speak about the world and reveal it anew, seek truth and meaning in our voyage through life, challenge the status quo, and be unafraid,” he says.
Ph: Rocio Chacon
“Society has become bewildered in an endless barrage of narratives cooked up by self-serving politicians, media giants, and big businesses, all with their own agenda. Now, more than ever, artists have a significant role in society – we are the mouthpiece of truth. This, in and of itself, is entirely political. ‘The Wedding’ is the most political work I’ve made to date, and stares head-on at social injustice.”
So, with the ongoing British government cuts to arts funding, and a Culture Minister who doesn’t seem to know what culture means, does Amit Lahav worry about the future of the arts in Britain? “This is a complex question that induces conflicting responses; it’s heartbreaking and entirely reductive to quash the arts in Britain, an industry that provides so much and inspires so many,” he says.
“But I think, ultimately, no I’m not worried. The arts are a counterpoint to the establishment and, no matter what unfolds, will always be there and will always be important in this country. Britain has faced difficult times before for the arts and these testing times are also an opportunity to strengthen voices sometimes not heard in the art world.”
‘The Wedding’ runs in the Barbican Theatre from Tuesday 7 – Saturday 11 June 2022
Photographer: Rocio Chacon.