This weekend ten of Edinburgh’s young people led audiences though the National Museum of Scotland as they performed their multisensory dance piece, Chronicles. These Young Experts, working with Project X (UK) and Thulani Rachia (UK/South Africa) in collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland devised this piece for Futureproof, a radical new festival of performing arts created by Scotland’s young people.
Chronicles begins in the depths of the National Museum. The audience gathers around the young performers before they lead us on a journey though the museum. Their path follows the chronicles of Scotland’s history, beginning in the Early Peoples’ exhibit, moving through Scotland’s Imperial and Industrial histories, and then on to consider their legacies in today’s Scotland through exhibitions of Art, Fashion, and World Cultures.
As we are guided through the museum by the Young Experts, their hand signals encourage us to follow their path, gather to look, and explore specific exhibits as they perform dances and movement sequences in response to the setting. The performers move as parts of a whole, dressed in black (as designed by Ashanti Harris) and wearing little white gloves. Their hands are prominent in the space, drawing attention to their fluid movements.
Audience members are provided with headphones through which the journey is accompanied by music, poetry, and commentary. The voices of the performers and other young contributors ask their audience to consider the nature and purpose of a museum. They tell true and imagined stories of the surrounding objects, of their own pasts, of their personal relationships and responses to the museum; the poetic voice of a young woman addresses the complexities of being of mixed heritage in an Edinburgh full of ignorance, and the voice of young man considers the concepts of identity and self-acceptance. We are later asked, ‘what is postcolonialism?’ One Young Expert follows his fellow performers, sketching their movements, recording the events as they happen, encouraging us consider the nature of observation, documentation and interpretation.
Chronicles proved to be a measured and inspired piece. The authenticity and integrity of the young people’s thoughts were tangible thought their words and resolute faces. The sound designs of Nick Paget-Tomlinson and Niroshini Thambar augmented the focus and novelty of the experience.
As the journey concluded in the sunlit atrium, the performers removed their gloves, bowed and walked away into the museum, into further thought and seemingly into the future. The journey encouraged us to look at the museum through their eyes. Their bodies filled the space in new ways, as they chose. Whilst Chronicles presented more questions than it did answers, there was a sense of hope, they explained, through our headphones that it is up to us to answer the questions their performance posed. As it ended, I felt compelled to retrace our trail, to reconsider the objects and concepts the piece had highlighted. I felt reassured of the curiosity, insight and creativity of the younger generation and of the importance of following young people when they lead the way.