OBSESSIONS / Hard acts to swallow: Performance is something they like served up on a plate in Cardiff. Adrian Turpin offers a taste of the food to come

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The Independent Culture
Over the next four days, in Cardiff, the idea that food is a simple pleasure will take a bashing. 'The Choreography of the Dining-Room' and 'Archaeology of a Trifle' will be discussed. Waiters, sushi chefs and sugar blowers will display their arts. Films such as Garlic Is as Good as 10 Mothers will be screened, the names of Rabelais and Roland Barthes bandied about.

And ready to digest it all will be 120 thespians, academics and gastronomes from around the world, keen to unearth links between food and performance that transcend the oeuvre of Fanny Craddock and the Galloping Gourmet.

'Food and Cookery' is the fifth 'Performance . . .' conference organised by the Centre for Performance Research in Cardiff. The first four looked at performance's connections with anthropology, politics, nature, culture and ritual - all areas of study quite commonly exploited by actors or directors. Examining the theatricality of food, says Richard Gough, who founded the Centre 12 years ago, was more of a leap in the dark.

'At first it was seen as vaguely off-the- wall, but then people started to get in touch. Now, we realise we could hold a second version of this conference with entirely different speakers.'

'Cooking is certainly not, in Britain, within the conventional, legitimate area of study. But there's an emergence of individuals and companies using food in this way, and there are connections to draw out between, for example, cooking and directing.'

Paul Bernstein, an American director helping to run the event, puts a more personal slant on it: 'I've had to support my art by working in a thousand restaurants,' he jokes. Food, he argues, is certainly fit for theatrical thought:

'It stands as a good anthropological link, a way of finding our way inside cultures and traditions. And there is a tremendous visual aspect. For example, the preparation of the French Caesar salad would be a 15-part performance: you serve from a certain side of the patron, there's a half-turn after you pour the bottle . . .

'We have Italian chefs giving demonstrations: the proper preparation of something as simple as tortellini or calzone is incredibly complex. Have you seen the film Babette's Feast? Her heart, her whole being was involved in doing things properly.'

Richard Gough puts it more simply: 'One of the things we are trying is to talk about the performative in everyday life.' Everyday, perhaps, but not necessarily ordinary.

On Monday, Alicia Rios, a Spanish restaurateur, flew into Heathrow with plant pots, vines and simple foods. From these, she will create My Temperate Menu, a greenhouse-style 'performance buffet', from which conferees will 'harvest' lunch on Saturday. Not to be out- done, Britain's best-known performance artist, Bobby Baker, performs her Drawing on Mother's Experience - in which she paints a white sheet with milk and flour, then wraps herself in it and dances to 'My Baby Just Cares for Me'.

Less dramatically, on Sunday the delegates - kitted out with 50 camping stoves and frying pans - will be required to cook their own Welsh breakfasts of laver bread, cockles and bacon.

'I think we've got a good mix of theory and practice,' says Gough. The proof of that pudding will be in the eating.

To Sunday. Details of events open to the public from CPR, Market Road, Canton, Cardiff, CF5 1QE (0222 345174)

(Photograph omitted)