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  • Miles Hedley

COLAB 2019 across south-east London

A drag queen outSummering Donna Summer, a Dutch jazz trio jamming with Donald Trump, a Brahms’ hymn and an anti-Brexit rant set to Handel – where else could you hear these on the same bill except during CoLab?

The four performances were the highlights of the first evening of a ten-day arts festival that gets better every year and makes Trinity Laban the hottest ticket in town.

This year’s extravaganza, with the theme of Journeys, featured 85 student-led projects, dozens of public performances and musicians and dancers from across the globe.

The opening evening at King Charles Court was competed by drag queen Calamity Vain and included Brahms’ gorgeous setting of St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, a Handel libretto rewritten for Remainers and the Amsterdam-based multimedia trio Tin Men And The Telephone who looped a clip of a Trump speech into a spellbinding jazz anthem.

The infinite variety of the opening night set the tone for the rest of this exemplary festival which allows youngsters just a few days to create a public-worthy work from scratch.

One group of students put together a Celtic folk band that played a storming gig at the Spanish Galleon in Greenwich.

Another, calling themselves the Brexchange Ensemble, put the bureaucratic words of the EU treaty to music and completely wowed the crowd at King Charles Court.

St Alfege’s Church hosted a fabulous concert of compositions by Janet Graham, who was there to watch TL virtuosi play such heartbreakingly lovely tunes as I Walked Out This Morning.

On a more traditional note, a recital of Schubert lieder, including the haunting Der Leiermann, drew a large and appreciative audience at the Old Royal Naval College chapel.

And The Fantastical Journeys Of The Schumanns - performed at St Alfege’s - restored Clara to her rightful place as the musical equal of her more famous husband Robert.

But CoLab’s real strength is its radicalism, which was splendidly encapsulated at Tate Modern by the Protest Choir who created a work about the dynamics of a crowd – going from unity and common cause to implosion and thuggery – which they sang and danced in one of the public spaces to unsuspecting and sometimes startled visitors.

This was CoLab’s eighth year but it was the first time it had included a prom, which was spread over the last two days and performed at Blackheath Halls.

Highlights included the Ravel-inspired dance piece Water Study, a stunning flamenco take on passion in Ways Of Falling In Love, inspired improvisations by the Jazz Opera Collective and a thunderous tribute to South African Township heroes such as Hugh Masekela, Adbullah Ibrahim and Ladysmith Black


The final afternoon of CoLab19 was given over to a brilliant concert at the Old Royal Naval College chapel directed by world famous violist and TL staffer Rivka Golani.

It was bookended with traditional “classics” by Dvorak and Tchaikovsky but also included world premieres of viola ensemble pieces by student Kristjan Kannukene and Lluis Caballeria plus UK premieres of works by Quim Miracle and Julio Domingo. It was a ravishing recital, my favourite event of the whole festival.

CoLab19 finished, as it always does, with a party at Blackheath Halls.

I loved the hypnotic rendition of five of Poulenc’s Seven Tenebrae Responsories. But what the crowd loved best were undoubtedly the Pretty Vacant Orchestra, who referenced the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks, followed by a mega-loud tribute to punk legends Crass.

The evening ended with CoLab doyen and ace violinist Joe Townsend playing an impromptu solo jig on a borrowed fiddle. It was a wonderful contrast to what had just gone before, which perfectly summed up the ethos that makes CoLab so magical.


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