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  • Miles Hedley

AGE AGAINST THE MACHINE at the Albany, Laban and across Lewisham

Age Against The Machine, an epic three-week festival across Lewisham promoting creative ageing, reached its triumphant climax on Sunday with an afternoon of performances and workshops at Laban theatre.

And the day’s grand finale (top) saw choreographer Lizzi Kew-Ross, composer Liz Lane and musical director Natasha Lohan bring together more than 100 singers, dancers and musicians to celebrate life, renewal, transition, community, integration, love and the transcendent power of art.

Many of those taking part were pensioners. But a fair few were youngsters from the likes of Trinity Laban who helped give the event the profound sense of continuity that lies at the heart of the human experience.

Apart from the finale itself, the two outstanding highlights of the last day were the film of a gorgeous outdoor performance by members of the Bellingham-based dance and singing group Voices In Motion and a solo live performance by young dancer Kristīne Brante about what you really are, not what you think you are. It was beautifully and brutally honest.

The undoubted centrepiece of the early part of the festival had been The Home, an immersive work about the sometimes blurred line between care and control at old people’s homes.

Created and overseen by actor Christopher Green (above), this remarkable work offered audiences the chance to spend a residential weekend at The Home or to join individual events such as a bingo session or a service of worship. The outpourings on social media revealed just how intense and inspirational the experience had been for those who took part.

It had also been intense for Green himself. As he prepared to repeat the show at the ARC in Stockton-on-Tees before it goes to Tokyo next year, he told me: “This is the longest and most delicate piece of work I’ve ever made. The issues are profound, although they are treated lightly.

“The Home required meticulous planning but you have to be prepared to change as you go along. Remarkably, though, it panned out pretty much as I expected.”

Age Against The Machine, presented in association with the Albany and Entelechy Arts, offered events every day during its run. Dance was joyfully represented at the Albany by Shades Of Black’s Upendo, by the wonderful Levantes’ work-in-progress Audition with its to-die-for rabbit and by Sadler’s Wells’ magnificent Company Of Elders (below), 14 pensioners - the oldest is 90 - who gave us a fabulous double-bill of works that would have challenged performers half their age.

Other high spots of the festival included – among many others - Carol Grimes’s The Singer’s Tale, the darkly funny Slap And Tickle with performance artist Liz Aggiss, a 21st century tea dance, the dementia story How To Keep Time, music with the Alison Rayner Quintet, Tangled Feet’s Half Life featuring a cast aged 10, 20, 40 and 80, Ridiculusmus Theatre’s unsettling but brilliantly titled creation Die! Die! Die! Old People Die!, classical concerts in Honor Oak, Catford and Downham, photography tours in Lewisham and a day of music at the Horniman Museum.

This was a festival that pulled off that most difficult of tricks – exploring vital issues about life and death in a manner that was always accessible and entertaining yet never patronising. I hope it becomes a regular features of Lewisham’s cultural calendar.

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