The Scotsman Sessions #148: Sita Pieraccini

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, ahead of her appearance in next year’s Manipulate Festival, performer and theatre-maker Sita Pieraccini creates a powerful evocation of a natural environment, intercut with images of a human figure caught in an urban context

Last week, Scotland’s remarkable Manipulate Festival launched its 2021 programme, made up partly of digital and online work and partly of Restless Worlds, a series of eight specially-commissioned installations which will visit Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow during January and February. As ever, the festival will be one of the first major international events of the year, taking place on the cusp of January and February; and as in every year since its first edition in 2008, Manipulate will explore the hyper-inventive outer reaches of performance and film animation, involving light and shadow, object theatre and puppets, drawn images and live physical performance, in ever new and often thrilling combinations.

And right at the heart of the Festival, this year, will be the performer and theatre-maker Sita Pieraccini, whose solo performance Make A Hoo! appeared at Manipulate in 2017, and who has won international acclaim for her 2012 solo performance piece Bird, a powerful meditation on the natural world and its fate, in a world dominated by humankind. Pieraccini graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2007, and immediately set about building the kind of portfolio of work that would enable her to survive as a solo performer and theatre-maker in Scotland.

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As an actress she has appeared in shows ranging from Catherine Wheels’ gorgeous 2019 children’s musical theatre show The Whirlygig, made with Red Bridge Arts, to the National Theatre of Scotland’s powerful 2019 Tramway show Them! She has performed and given workshops across Scotland, and in England, Spain and Sri Lanka. She is a clown doctor for the Edinburgh-based Hearts And Minds charity, and also a musician and singer, formerly a member of the independent Scottish band Teencanteen.

Sita Pieraccini

The core of her work, though, lies in her own intense individual performances, often produced in collaboration with sound designer David Pollock. For the Manipulate Digital Festival 2021 she has been working on Crunch, a companion piece to her 2012 work Bird; and in this powerful extract, created entirely by Pieraccini during this latest lockdown, we see and hear a powerful evocation of a natural environment, intercut with images of a moving human figure caught in an urban context – a series of images, this time made for film, that both reflect her continuing preoccupations as an artist, and offer a new perspective on them.

This year’s Manipulate Festival will also feature work by the award-winning Scottish theatre-maker Shona Reppe, as well as top puppet-makers Guy Bishop and Gavin Glover, emerging artist Chell Young, and the legendary Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre of Glasgow. The digital element of the Festival maintains Manipulate’s strong international connections, with work from artists based in Chicago, Berlin and South Africa; the animated film programme will include work curated by the Edinburgh Short Film Festival, and an international showcase from the Animated Womxn cllective.

From the outset, though, the aim of Manipulate has been to stage a international festival of visual theatre and animation that would inspire the work of new generations of young Scottish artists, and open up their sense of what is possible in theatre and performance. Pieraccini was one of the first artists to benefit from that network of contacts and inspiration; and as the interaction between humankind and the world we inhabit comes into ever deeper question, she and other performers are developing relationships with their own bodies, and with all the art-forms that contribute to visual and object theatre, that not only give unique expression to those questions, but somehow embody them, in sound, images and movement.

Manipulate 2021: Restless Worlds visits Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow between 21 January and 21 February. Manipulate 2021: Digital Festival, including Crunch, runs from 27 January to 7 February. Details and tickets at https://www.manipulatefestival.org/whatson/

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