WTF Wednesday: Jo Bannon – ALBA – The Lowry, Salford

ALBA by Jo Bannon

ALBA by Jo Bannon is a powerful story about paleness, blending in and standing out

Since its opening in 2000, The Lowry has always been at the forefront of contemporary theatre. From cutting edge dance pieces to pioneering performance art, the world-class arts centre prides itself on being “a safe space for those who think dangerously” with their new WTF Wednesday embracing these values wholeheartedly.

WTF Wednesday is a series of evening performances designed for the compulsively curious. It forms part of The Lowry’s Pay What You Decide season in which the audience decide how much they want to pay for the ticket after the show, removing the financial risk of buying a ticket without knowing if you will enjoy it or not.

Kicking off the WTF Wednesday autumn season is ALBA, a powerful story about blending in and standing out by UK artist Jo Bannon. Influenced by her experience as a person with albinism, the abstract piece explores her own ‘paleness’ and the role this has played in her early life.

Explored through light, movement and sound, the 50 minute piece opens with Bannon appearing on stage almost as a ghost, rising gradually from the ground draped in a white sheet. Bannon’s mother, whose voice is heard on audio, recalls the moment she first gave birth to her baby daughter, announcing her unexpected pale appearance as “a miracle”. Bannon was born on the same day the Pope came to visit the family’s home city of Coventry and while her family has always associated her birth with a blessing, it’s clear that others have considered it a curse.

The performance takes its title from the Italian word Alba, meaning sublime light, and light is certainly at the heart of this piece. Bannon uses cleverly uses light and dark, shadow and brightness, black and white, to play with her own status as ‘miracle child’. Even her own hair becomes a shimmering beacon of light in its own right as she methodically washes and dries it whilst taking the audience on a journey.

The performance is stripped right back with Bannon using light, movement and sound to unpick the way in which we look, hear and sense our immediate environment. While the piece isn’t technically wordless, it’s performed in a kind of ceremonial silence. Even the staging is pretty stark, with just a fold-up table, a steam iron, a kettle and a talc-laden linen sheet providing the props for this quiet, reflective and wry journey.

Yet, while ALBA is certainly a visually striking piece, there is an overall eerie feeling to the piece which at times is unsettling. Bannon’s ghostly presence, both when she’s wrapped in the white sheet and later on as her hair covers her face, feels a little creepy and odd. The initial pitch-black darkness of the theatre also resulted in a few members of the audience shuffling uncomfortably in their seats at the start of the production, unsure of what to expect.

That said, Bannon does an impressive job of an unpicking a tangle of stories, both the stories we tell ourselves and the stories told about us, to deliver an extraordinary visual poem that’s not easily forgotten.

3.5 out of 5 stars

ALBA by Jo Bannon was performed at The Lowry on 27 September 2017 as part of the WTF Wednesday series.