Take Me Somewhere series: Louise Ahl

Words by Sarah Lapinsky.

On the cutting edge of radical performance, the Take Me Somewhere Festival is back again bringing Glasgow audiences intriguing, exciting works from some of the world’s most ground-breaking performance makers. Kicking off October 13th and lasting through the 28th, the festival is dedicated to making space for audiences to connect with interesting ideas, indulge in innovation and enjoy a myriad of diverse voices such as Louise Ahl’s work Skunk without K is Sun showing the 20th and 21st at Tramway. We caught up with Louise to learn more about her practice and work.

Q: How would you describe your practice/artistic journey?

A: I am a choreographer who works with experimental performance, sound and writing. For the past 6 years I have been working with integrated audio description in various formats. I’m really invested in thinking about ways to make experimental performance more accessible to audiences. It can often feel like quite a niche genre, and particularly for Blind or Visually Impaired audiences there is a challenge in how to describe movement and performance material that perhaps by its nature wants to avoid categorisation and explanation. I am very interested in language and how it can guide audiences through abstract work. In the pandemic I spent a lot of time writing poetry and participating in an opera research programme, so these activities have really informed my new piece. I had an idea that audio description could form the libretto (text) of the opera, resulting in an opera which is accessible to Blind and Visually Impaired people. 

Q: What is your work about and where did you find inspiration?

The work exists as an idea and a structure. It is an opera that describes itself into being. The sung words manifest the space, the set, colours, light, the performer’s movements etc. It challenges the traditional form of storytelling in theatre and opera, and presents an alternative narrative through integrated audio description and immersive scents. The piece evokes imagery which I am hoping the audience will run with in their own direction and create their own stories of what it’s about.

It is a solo piece in three acts, with each act focusing on different things. Act 1 deals with atmosphere. Act 2 investigates human behaviour. Act 3 presents culture & the traces of humanity. 

The piece is inspired by learning about opera and how inaccessible and elitist it is in many different ways, so I wanted to offer something towards opening up of the system in which opera operates. It is also inspired by poetry, linguistics and science fiction, particularly the language concept in the book Amatka by Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck. The work borrows the format of traditional opera works, but presents a skewed version of it. For example, the composer Yas Clarke has worked with what we call a ‘faux baroque’ tonality, which makes some of the music sound a bit baroque, but somehow a bit ‘off’. Similarly, there is a faux baroque dance, which lends stepping sequences and posturing from baroque dances but again here, it is pretty off-kilter. The sound world is made up of my live voice, and a recorded chorus made out of my voice, which is placed in various speakers surrounding the audience, shaping a spatial awareness of the voices.

Other core collaborators include Jo Hellier who has been working with me on the text and performance material, Clara Weale who is a Scent Designer and has created the immersive scents that tells the ‘story’ of the opera through the olfactory sense. Access Consultants Quiplash have been working with us to feedback on the audio description from the start of making the work. Norwegian Artist Anette Gellein has created the costume and set, which consists of giant beautifully painted curtains.

Q: What would you want the audience to take from experiencing your work?

A: I want the format of integrated audio description to make it enjoyable for Blind and Visually Impaired audiences to experience the work. My intention with the work is really to expand on the standard audio description format which is experienced in headphones and to elevate it through this operatic form, using poetic and playful text, which is for the whole audience to enjoy. 

I am hoping to introduce the art form of opera to people who are uninterested in going to the opera. I want the work to simultaneously challenge opera as an art form reluctant to change. 

On an emotional level, I want the audience to experience moments of beauty and a sense of awe, to alleviate and take the pressure off just living in the world we live in. I have really missed moments of beauty in the world so there has been intentional effort towards beauty in the text, in the music, in the visual aspects so I really hope people will enjoy beauty for the sake of beauty, however naive that might sound. Personally I think the work is also quite funny sometimes so from an entertainment perspective, I hope people will have a giggle.

Q: What drew you to the Take Me Somewhere Festival? Or what is radical about this work?

A: I have presented work at Take Me Somewhere in the past and felt like this piece would be a good fit again. The work experiments with form and has a Gesamtkunstwerk quality, presenting itself through many different art forms, even though the main artistic focus is opera. What is radical about the work is probably the use and elevation of the access function of audio description and its fresh perspective on opera. Radicality also lies in the refusal to adopt traditional storytelling within this format and embracing a meta-narrative. The scents form a layer of narrative which is dispersed throughout the performance space at different points in the show. It is a subtle but really important texture in the work, evoking imagery and memory. But ultimately, it is not really for me to say whether the work is radical or not, that’s for the audience to say. The intention was never to make something radical, but something accessible and form-expanding. 

Q: Is there anything else we should know?

There will be touch tours before both shows at Take Me Somewhere which are bookable on their website. The show on the 21st October is BSL interpreted. 

We are currently building a tour of the show for next year so we are hoping that people will come for the shows at Take Me Somewhere and tell their favourite venue to book the show.

Tickets & more info: takemesomewhere.co.uk/louise-ahl

Artist website: louiseahl.com