Edinburgh Festival: Jo Bannon presents ‘Alba’

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Described as being influenced by the artist’s albinism, Jo Bannon’s Alba is a performance which tells a story about paleness, blending in and standing out. Review by Colin Hambrook.

photo of a head encompassed by a shroud of white hair

Jo Bannon, Alba. Image © Manuel Vason

As the audience settles, becoming accustomed to being in a room of near darkness, we become aware of what appears to be a ghostly presence hovering, centre stage.

I am reminded of Anish Kapoor’s enigmatic sculpture, Ghost (1997), in which light is used to create a tangible ethereal presence inside a vast block of hollowed-out limestone; except here the black box stage is akin to the inside of the stone.

There is a sense of suffocation, slowly relieved by a gentle melodious sound of soft voices arising. As the chorus grows, so the figure of the artist’s floating presence expands. Emerging slowly from a large white sheet, Bannon carefully constructs an atmosphere of intimacy melded with mystery. We hear her mother’s voice telling us about the Pope arriving in her home town Coventry, on the day of her birth.

Using a few simple props: a fold-up table, steam iron, a kettle and a talc-laden linen sheet we travel between a view of an altar in a church and a domestic scene in the family kitchen.

The images Bannon creates are a meditation on her own history, and through revealing perceptions of how she is seen, we are reminded of how much who we are is constructed through the eyes of others: family, friends and contemporaries.

In a series of beautiful moments we witness the washing and drying of her brilliant white ‘silken’ hair, which like the sheet, takes on an animate presence; at different moments being either blown using a hairdryer to make shapes in the air or to become a shimmering entity in its own right.

The title of the piece Alba is an Italian word meaning sublime light. And so the superb use of light to suggest something miraculous, is at the heart of the artist’s exploration of her sense of identity and the success of this elegant, effectively considered and delivered piece of performance.


Supported as part of the iF (Integrated Fringe) Platform at the Edinburgh Festival, Jo Bannon’s Alba is showing from 24-28 August at the Drill Hall, home of the Forest Fringe. The iF platform is part of the larger three-year Reach project, awarded Strategic Touring funding by Arts Council England. The Strategic Touring Partnership is led by Stopgap Dance Company and supported by partners Attenborough Arts Centre, The Point, University of Bedfordshire and Zinc Arts.