IF YOU go down to The Arches this week, you're in for a big surprise. The show you see in the subterranean Glasgow theatre will be of your own choosing. It might not even be the same as the show your friends see.
That's because at 20-minute intervals during Natura Morte, a promenade performance in the rarely used basement-level arches, you will be asked to decide where to go next. All the time, there are seven or eight scenes running in parallel. Unless you return on successive evenings, you will see only three of them. "Even husband and wife will be divided," says director and performer Anton Adasinskiy. "One room will be a dance show, in another a piece of storytelling, in another a clown piece."
Adasinskiy is the founder of Derevo, the Russian-German physical theatre company that has built a formidable cult following on the Edinburgh Fringe. Natura Morte is a collaboration between Derevo and another Fringe favourite, Akhe, a visually ravishing company from St Petersburg. Where previous visits have allowed us to see established productions from their repertoire – Fringe First- winning shows such as Akhe's White Cabin and Derevo's Once – this is a rare opportunity to be in at the start of one of their productions, and one custom-built for this remarkable space.
"The work will be very experimental," says Derevo's Elena Yarovaya, sitting in the Arches restaurant after an intense day of rehearsal and discussion. "It's the first time we have collaborated with performers who are not from our style of theatre. We have a long relationship with the Scottish public, but this is the first time we are trying to do something together."
She is referring to Conflux, a new project dedicated to the development of street theatre and circus in Scotland, which is the third part of the creative team. Not only is Natura Morte an opportunity for Scottish practitioners to work at an international level – the show goes to Dresden after Glasgow – but it also opens up possibilities for Derevo to work in a new way. "They're all professional, they're all great, but they're very different," says Adasinskiy. "We're improvising every day, then Elena and I will choose the best pieces and the best people and combine the groups and start to put things together. All the material will come from the artists and they'll be happy to play because they will have created it themselves. My task is to press people to make sure they produce only diamonds."
"When we start to work together we create a common atmosphere," says Yarovaya. "We call it a soup, boiling in a pan. It's interesting to see how the Scottish performers can be part of our soup."
To bring together such a varied ensemble – 21 artists in all – Adasinskiy has devised a loose story into which the different elements can sit. It is about the Weatherman, a magical figure who can influence the weather. Nobody can see him, but he is always just around the corner, leaving traces of his presence. "He spends years to make himself an expert in different art forms," says Adasinskiy. "He is a good dancer, musician, mime, singer and clown. He doesn't want to show himself, but he will show his art. So the artists play different parts of his soul. All their different styles speak about one man."
For the director, it's a way of talking about the capacity within us all to pursue different avenues in life. It's a reminder that, whatever age we are, we are never too old to return to the ambitions we had in our youth. "The main message of the show is that there's still time to change," he says. "There's still time to go left or right, to return to your dream when all doors were open."
The choices that we make as an audience, deciding what show we see, remind us of the choices we have in life. It is, he says part of a renewed interest in narrative, that he plans to develop further in Harlequin, a new show that Derevo will bring to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010. "Sometimes I see a dance show and I can't decide what they're trying to say," says Adasinskiy, whose shaven head and gaunt looks make him ideal casting as Mephistopheles in Alexander Sokurow's Faust, which he recently finished shooting in Iceland. "Who put that movement on the stage? Why did some people jump all together? I want to go back to a time when theatre was very understandable, like a fairytale. I want to make a simple, beautiful, lyrical story for people and this will be my next show. It's important for me to get back on the stage with an open heart."
Natura Morte is at the Arches, Glasgow, 10-13 November. www.thearches.co.uk