Splintering Stigma- Father Figurine || Body Politic

It is powerful to have untold stories represented on stage.

I could not have been any more than ten years of age, but then again maybe I was twelve. I remember sitting in the back seat of our red Toyota Corolla when my mother told me somebody close to us was experiencing a mental health crisis. We were on the motorway, I think, not sure where we were going, I was scared, the detail was shocking and did not make sense to me. The young black man I had known was no longer present.

Father Figurine is a piece of dance theatre presented by Body Politic, under the artistic direction of Emma-Jane Morbey. The piece utilises spoken word, strong musicality and the hip-hop dance aesthetic to create a multi-faceted piece that draws you into the difficult subject of mental health. Performed by Tyrone Isaac-Stuart (who created the music) and Isaac Ouro-Gnao (who wrote the piece), the duet tells the story of a traumatic event that leaves behind a father and son to pick up the pieces.

The storyline gives you an intimate picture of how trauma can affect a family.  I found one of the most tender scenes to be at the very beginning where we see the father and son playing together. Rolling around, imitating each other and having fun – expressions of love. It is so rare to see such a connection performed by two men of African/Caribbean heritage, that there was a profundity to it.

There is an over-representation of young African and Caribbean men in mental health services in the UK, and whilst during the post-show talk it was mentioned that they did not want to focus on the fact that both performers are of African/Caribbean heritage, for me, it was the very premise of which I found this piece to be so poignant and refreshing.

It is powerful to have untold stories represented on stage, and whilst mental health struggles is one that we can all relate to in one way or another. The significance in being able to journey with these melanin-filled men as they battled through cultural, historical and social stigma to seek the help they needed is certainly not something to gloss over. The excellent characterisation of the father and son allows the audience to become invested in their story. The social and cultural references gave the characters depth and bought them to life, and so the piece was layered, allowing the audience to access the work from multiple points.  As the audience, we watched how these stigmas debilitated the characters into silence, into “work was fine” and “I’m ok”, crept into their dreams as an embodied reoccurring nightmare, spilt out into overreactions and restrained responses. Their struggle reflected the struggle many of us face in our own lives.

The provocation of Father Figurine for me is to start those conversations with the men and young people around you, and even further than that, to stay in dialogue with those men of African and Caribbean heritage who often do not get help for their mental health until they are at crisis point.

For DD


Featured photograph from Body Politic

All views expressed in the review are my own. This review was commissioned.

A Liberation of The Soul | I:OBJECT – Tabanka Dance Ensemble

Radiating from those bodies were the spirit of resistance, of hope, of overcoming, jubilation and power.

Darkness,we sit in complete darkness, our senses cut off with only the inhale,exhale of anticipation to comfort us. Just as this eclipse becomes familiar, a deep voice bellows through the auditorium, shadows begin to form,they undulate, articulate, moving in and through each other, sometimes disappearing then appearing again in a different state, on the floor, in a formation,with a hood over their head. Imagery protrudes forth, as we journey with the dancers from the bottom of the sea. The place where many of our ancestors lie.

November brought with it the opportunity for me to travel to Norway and see the premiere of Tabanka Dance Ensemble’s new piece I:OBJECT. Founded in 2007 the company are known for its innovative and diverse movement technique and hard hitting productions which challenge the assumptions around the ‘black experience’. I:OBJECT is a’love letter to the soul ‘ which explores the objectification, commodification and exploitation of African and Caribbean bodies. 

Avoiding Capture  

In 2015 after an interview with two UK based artists, I developed the idea of avoiding capture in relation to African Diasporic artists creating and producing dance work in the West (see publications here).  For me artists which avoid capture, are those that despite the hostility of the environment that they exist and create within, carve out their own spaces, use their own language and dance on their own terms, with or without support from institutions. The artist which avoids capture, will not be a token or compromised, but instead asserts themselves through developing practices and producing creative expressions which are unashamedly reflective of their experiences.  

I:OBJECT continues in Tabanka’s tradition of creating its own space, by pushing the boundaries of movement, creating a vocabulary that is anchored in both the past and the future. The innovative use of traditional African and Diasporic forms formulated with a contemporary understanding,propels the choreography into a futuristic space which expands the contemporary aesthetic.  Prestø’s choreography draws us into the piece hitting us with words, sound and powerful imagery. Engaging our senses, causing us to become awakened to what is being presented on stage.  The movement spills out of the dancer’s bodies, as a representative of their history, present, and future creating a perfect language in which to tell this story. 

The creative astuteness that Prestø and his team present in I:OBJECT  is exemplary of the  inventiveness of African Diasporic creatives and communities who continually produce new forms in which to subvert the oppressor and avoid capture. 

There were so many poignant moments during the 60 minutes in which the 11 brown bodies took to the stage and danced with their souls. Moments in which the whole audience,laughed, paused in contemplation, or grieved. Moments in which some of us shouted for joy, some circled their hips, others clapped their hands, others tapped their foot.

One of many stand out moments for me was the solo danced by Lacky Mahamed, in which she portrayed the grief of a black woman at the lynching of a black man. Visibly shaken and crying, Mahamed, moved through balances, elongating her limbs with flexed foot, fell into the floor, spiralled, contracted and contorted her body,hit the floor with her fist in frustration and directed her eye contact to the audience. Who this man was to her who knows, but in this solo Mahamed was able to communicate more than the emotion of grief, but the reality of how black women are expected to deal with / carry situations which grieve us.  There were moments of profound brokenness and hysteria, which still carried strength and grace. Tears streamed down my face as I reflected on myself and the women in our community, how often is the black woman given a voice such as Prestø and Mahamed gave to her in that moment?  Rarely. Very rarely.

With an epic crescendo ending to the piece, the piece concluded, and I could not speak. The inadequacy of words more apparent than ever, as my body tried to comprehend the journey of my spirit, which had stood at the interstice (See Bhabha ) of overwhelming aching and transcendental rejuvenation, of love and loss, of pain and healing, of pain and healing.

Reflected in the exhaustion of the dancers as they took their final bow, was the plight of the black soul for true freedom, the plight of my ancestors, of my own and those to come. Radiating from those bodies were the spirit of resistance, of hope,of overcoming, jubilation and power. I:OBJECT’s offering was so much more than technical excellence and beautiful aesthetics. I: Object’s offering was an empowerment to the very inside of our beings, an awakening, a healing, an acknowledgement, and declaration. Boldly these bodies told their own story moving in a language only known to them, and invited all of us in, fearlessly sharing their existence through movement. 

I found I:OBJECT to be a sensational production,that took me on a journey both spiritually and emotionally. The presentation of the multifaceted African Diasporic experience is a refreshing and deeply necessary narrative. I did not realise until I saw my own story and the story of my ancestors reflected on stage with such emotional vigour how much of myself had been made invisible. This not only had a personal significance, but a significance to those outside of the community, who also expressed deep emotional reactions, and self-reflection to the show.  Yes, the piece was tough in some places, the confrontation of oppression is rarely nice. But in the end, I felt there was a stripping away, a stripping a prejudice, an increased understanding, a liberation, an affirmation, a shaking of souls. 

I:OBJECT was shown at Dansen Hus, Oslo aspart of Oslo World Festival


Featured Photograph by Noah L Williams

All the views in this review are my own. This trip was independently funded and I was given complimentary tickets to the show. 

The Promised Land- Boy Breaking Glass by Alesandra Seutin | Vocab Dance

Recognising that the beauty of their art exists in the breaking, in the broken, in the fragments, there is much to be expressed from this place.

We begin.

Seven dimly lit dancers sporadically spaced stand with power, they chant in an ancestral tongue. A call, to those who have passed, those to come, and to those with understanding.

As the audience we are immediately drawn to Randolph Matthews vocal tones, which are simultaneously soothe and create tension. Boy, breaking glass. In these initial moments, Matthews character, who acts as a sort of EMC, attempts to show us his individualism, through his vocal play, his creative self.  In a choral fashion, the rest of the dancer’s attack Matthews, physically pushing his body down and enveloping him in the group, suffocating his voice, until it is no more, until he is just like them.

Boy Breaking Glass marks Seutin’s return to ensemble choreography after an extensive break, in which the artist has been focusing on herself. Inspired by the African American poet Gwendolyn Brooks poem by the same name. The piece has the signature aesthetic of Seutin whose intention was to create a ‘utopic space for brown bodies’ in which challenging questions could also be explored. We see the arms of Senegalese dances, the get down, undulations, jumps, polyrhythms and polycentricism all present. The movement is inspired by Southern and West African traditional and contemporary dances. Seutin pairs this with modern contemporary sensibilities, a thread which runs through the work, there is the use of spirals, intricate footwork, and lines which create a multi-aesthetic piece, reflecting the complex layers present in Africa, the Diaspora and those cultures with which they have collided.

The metaphor of Brooks’ poem resonated with me most, watching the multiplicity present in the choreography reflected the fragmentations of what might be interpreted as broken glass.  Fragmentation, yet creation being present. There is an unmaking in the breaking of glass, a deconstruction that becomes the art, the art is in the being, in the dismantling of systems, in the creating, in the surviving. These fragments of glass: movement, sounds from across the diaspora, shades of brown and more, become our whole, and our whole becomes our protest, and a means of resistance.  Mirroring Brook’s the choreography becomes a challenge from Seutin, it is an empowering call and acknowledgement of/to brown people. Recognising that the beauty of their art exists in the breaking, in the broken, in the fragments, there is much to be expressed from this place.

There was a great unity conveyed by the dancers, a sense of kindred, and togetherness shown through great moments of unison and sameness of plight. This, however, did not surpass the idiosyncrasies of the performers and musicians, which were still present. Bringing together the African continent and the Diaspora, through the dancers, creative team and musicians, showcased the richness of those born in and derived from Africa. This diversity reveals that we have all been othered by dominant systems which seek to oppress and make our narratives invisible and we all, therefore, have our own glass to break.

Nearing the final scene, the dancers travel across the floor by using each other’s bodies to allow one person to rise and be carried forward. That person in turn, dissolves back into the floor and becomes the carrier of another person (such a poignant visual). After a physical struggle, the piece comes to its promised utopic end. Reaching the promised land, pure elation and joy is emulated by all the performers through vocals, music, and movement. For myself there was an intensity to this joy as it came to juxtapose what had come before it. The complex layers, and subliminal symbols present provoked a sensation of both comfort and unease. The joy here presented a moment of release and escape, of celebration, a safe space, but I couldn’t shake the weight of what it takes to reach such spaces.

I found this piece needed to sit with me for a while before I was able to gain any insight. Its multi-layered complexity demands nothing less. This piece is not just a message, it is a dialogue, that is occurring in a multitude of languages. A dialogue that is happening now.  For this alone, I found the work to indeed be bold.  It rejects all notions of nation or tribalism and draws us into an empowered community, in which everything becomes an opportunity to transcend into light, into art, into joy, to a hymn, a snare, and an exceeding sun.

 

 

Aside –

There was great significance in this show being presented at Sadlers Wells. Alongside Botis Seva, these two choreographers highlighted the narratives of African and African diasporic people on a world-renowned platform. What a wonderful time to be a young black aspiring creative, knowing that others are forging the path that you will walk down. This for me was a source of great pride.


This piece was shown as part of a triple bill programme called Reckonings at Sadlers Wells Theatre on 11th Oct 2018. Tickets were purchased independently.

Featured Image by Johan Persson

Legacy Edition: Greta Mendez – Whinin’ into Subversion.

The gift and the calling of the creative mind are without repentance, evidently demonstrated through Mendez’s ability to capture an audience in the way she did that night.

we whinin’  hands in the air, head to the sky,  hips lose, eyes closed, we don’t care, it takes a while for the room to warm up, but soon the air is electric with the waving of hips and torsos finding their own rhythms within the beat.  Chairs are in-between us but we are together, together in the dance, caught up , caught up in this uncapturable moment. 

Mendez enters the stage and opens with her hips whinin’ supported by the rhythmic beat of Soca. Encouraging us to join her, it seems as if the cyclical movement of her hips and torso alone transcends us into the spirit of the Caribbean Carnival.

In March this year (2018) I saw a post on Facebook which would see me driving down to Bristol on the subsequent night. Greta Mendez – a pioneer of African and African Diasporic dance in the UK was set to perform. Mendez is a founding member of  MAAS Movers Created in 1977 MAAS Movers was an  contemporary dance company that provided opportunities for African and African Diasporic dancers at a time where the presence of African and African diasporic dancers in mainstream dance was.

Mendez performed extracts of three different pieces questioning , I am Only Chopping Onions,  My Name is not Marilyn So No-one Gives an AFYZ and Bhopal. Three very different pieces, but all equally heavy in content, My Name is not Marilyn So No-one Gives an AFYZ questions the affect on the arbitrary racial system and its legacy by portraying the many different categories Mendez herself come under, half-caste, mixed-Race, mulatto, reds, whitey cockroach and black. Mendez rejects all of these terms and instead urges us to see each other as our cultures and the heritages that flows through our veins.

I am Only Chopping Onions, is a Choreopoem written by Mendez after observing the horrific images of the news and how we as a nation are implicated in those images. Bhopal, another thought provoking piece, confronts the audience with the Bhopal Disastar in India, the infamous ‘ Union Carbide, May God Forgive You’ headline scribed on Mendez’ back, a call for peace, justice, and empathy and consideration of how we consume goods that are made in far off lands by child labour and in make-shift factories.

These extracts were bought together with Mendez snapping out of character and winin’, bringing a joy and presence into the space. Mendez explained in the after-show talk of the subversive nature of carnival and that this was the spiritual pulse driving the show.  These seemingly contrasting movement forms, the whinin’ of the hips, the joy, the freedom, juxtaposed with intimate personal trauma expressed, with the global terror and injustices around the world created a space which provokes deep reflection, empathy, euphoria and joy.

The performance that Mendez presented to us, positioned her as an incredible creative woman who has a sensitivity to the things that are happening as she moves through this world. A woman that absorbs issues in politics, world tragedies, injustices and personal oppression and experiences, into her being and make sense of that through the gift of movement and theatre. Filled with emotion and strength, Mendez does not fail to bring the audience with her as she pulls from deep within herself. Constantly addressing us, Mendez draws us into the spaces of each extract with intention and care, enabling us to regard the respective issues from the place in which she stands.

The gift and the calling of the creative mind are without repentance, evidently demonstrated through Mendez’s ability to capture an audience in the way she did that night.

Sometimes in life we are blessed to encounter something extraordinarily rare that we often do not realise what has gone before us, until it is that… I implore our community to continue to support the legacies of the artists that paved the way before us. There is much to learn and gain from the wisdom of their experience in making, doing and being.  In celebration of these artist including Greta, let us give our flowers now.


I saw Greta’s performance at Kuumba in Bristol. The evening was presented by Eclectic. This Review was requested. The ticket was bought with my own money. The request of this review had no implication on my opinions.

 

 

Babylon Your Throne Gone Down : Windows of Displacement by Akeim Toussaint Buck

No Weak Heart Shall Enter…

No Weak Heart Shall Enter…

In his debut solo Windows of Displacement Akeim Toussaint Buck deals with the intersectional complexities of a diasporic identity within the UK and the movement of people. Referring to the Slavery, Empire, Immigration policies and Colonialism, Buck takes the audience on a Journey from the Enslavement of African people on the Caribbean Island of Jamaica to Britain

In this piece Buck presents himself as a storyteller, dancer, educator, beat-boxer, spoken-word artist and more. Using his personal biography as narrative, the audience gains insight into what it takes to become British.  I personally love the soft confrontation of this piece. Buck challenges the audience to not allow political and socio-economic systems to harden their hearts to the point where one can no longer see humanity that lies within each person. But it is also a confrontation, a confrontation for the audience to recognise Britain’s colonial legacy and the consequences of that legacy which are still present today.

I use the term ‘soft-confrontation’ not to represent meekness, but to portray Buck’s approach in which he presents stark realities with eloquent humour and vulnerability.  By telling his own story, referencing his mother, childhood games and memories, Buck openly presents himself to the audience. For me this is especially an important aspect of the piece to recognise.  As a person of Jamaican heritage, I have grown with this history and variations of Buck’s story, but for those who have had the privilege of not having to know about this history, Buck presents an accessibility that does not diminish the seriousness of the history and its implications, and at the same time, is patient open and vulnerable, it is a confrontation laced with love, one that invites you into the story through humanity.

The most resonant part of the piece for me was towards the end, where a monologue by Buck calls the audience to be active in resisting capitalists structures in their daily lives through love and awareness ends with the phrase, “no weak heart can enter this arena”. The notion of ‘weak heart’ comes from the Rastafarian religion and is normally used to refer to anyone outside the religion but in the context of Windows of Displacement, Buck uses the phrase to demonstrate the strength we have against systems of oppression if we act together.  With these words resounding in our minds Akeim flows into a beautifully lyrical movement phrase to Burning Spear’s Jordan River this movement phrase is steeped in aesthetics from the Caribbean with African retentions, tied up with a contemporary framework Buck falls in and out of movement, jumps and  falls into the floor effortlessly, undulates, and sways his hips, dipping in and out like the rhythms of the Caribbean Sea. This movement vocabulary for me reflected the resistant strength that flows through the blood of the descendants of the enslaved African people, and the power that heritage has to initiate change.

Windows of Displacement is a promising start from this talent artist. Buck’s artistic voice is one that is needed among the new generation of African and African Diasporic artists in the UK and I for one am excited to see this voice grow.

 

 

I saw Windows of Displacement at West Yorkshire Playhouse as part of Refugee Week 2017

This review was requested by the artist. Tickets were bought with my own money. This request had no implications on my opinions.

 

“We Were Picking it Up, But Now I’m Throwing It Down” Across the Souvenir with Alesandra Seutin

And if you don’t understand, then it is not for you

 

Her brown skin glistens as the light reflects surrounding her body in a bright aureole. She stands in all white Jordan’s and a flowing net skirt. A transparent panel in the skirt reveals the strength of her womanhood.  Shifting from staccato to a lyrical flow that increases and slows in pace, she holds her position. She holds and refuses us her eyes, refuses us her acknowledgement. She continues with her ritual, if you want this knowledge, you are going to have to enter.

Enter in to this space.

For me it is a space of Afrofuturisim, rooted in the past, dealing with now, and living in the beyond. Shifting between place and time, Seutin moves as an ethereal being across the stage, her ancestral data pouring out of her dance into this rite of transformation, this act of healing, this ceremony of passage, this call.

Alesandra Seutin’s latest solo work Across the Souvenir is very different to what I have seen of the choreographer in the past. The piece seems to hang somewhere between the theatrical and abstract, ritual and performance, resistance and acceptance. Seutin takes her time, giving nothing away. With a heavy use of popping, she moves across the stage as a spiritual being not from our time. The piece is intense, and it is the intensity that draws you in as you seek to gain understanding of the intricacies that are being presented.  The piece functions on multiple layers. Seutin’s voice, the accompaniment (Kweku Aacht), the use of props and symbolism create an immersion into another realm.  Visual stimulation from the work of Michèle Magema repeatedly occurs and haunts the space as a constant reminder of the relentless plight of African and African diasporic people presented through a woman picking up balls of cotton.

What Seutin is creating here should not be overlooked; this is a piece of radical creativity. Seutin presents herself within the context of European Contemporary dance, as brown-skinned woman, a higher being with a politicised message that she communicates implicitly.  A message that is not for everyone, but is available to everyone. A message tied up in the act of  Seutin throwing balls of cotton onto the ground.  The piece climaxes with Seutin bouncing a white basketball, with every bounce a sense of foreboding occurs. The sense that something is coming, time is running out and it has now come. Seutin has come to give a message, as those before her, to those that have understanding.

And if you don’t understand, then it is not for you

F.U.B.U

“But Stay Woke”

 – Childish Gambino


Across the Souvenir was performed as part of Out of the System a Programme curated by Freddie Opoku-Addaie as part of Dance Umbrella 2017. I was one of the Systems-Lab Artists for this programme and attended this piece complimentary with the support of Freddie and Dance of the African Diaspora at One Dance UK

Featured photo from Dance Umbrella

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Have to Get Naked in Order to Change: Saju Hari’s Fly From

Where the depths and the layers of artistry unfolding before you speaks directly to the heart of your being, and you remember

There are those moments, those moments where everything within you connects to what you see before you on stage. Where the depths and the layers of artistry unfolding before you speaks directly to the heart of your being. They do not occur often, but when they do you remember, you remember who you are, who you are called to be, what you are called to do.

Sitting next to my mother in the Curve Theatre studio I once again had one of those moments, and I felt full as I was reminded of the magic of movement and its power to move. Saju Hari’s Fly From is an abstract response to the ongoing uprising and violent oppressions witnessed across the globe. Hari’s inspiration for the piece stems from the standing man of Taksim Square’ in Istanbul to the self-immolation of the Buddhist Monks in Tibet. Hari explores the position of the individual within wider movements of protests. How individuals who do not belong express their frustration with the society around them.

It was the focus on the individual that made this piece so effective for me. In the beginning a sense of normality is established by the very talented Subhash Viman Goraniadressed as a businessperson, Gorania very gradually began to lose a sense of control of his reality and becomes disillusioned. This disillusionment sends Gorania onto a journey where he finds himself naked and seemingly broken. Rooting himself in his cultural grounding, Gorania finds power and liberation as he moves through his newfound empowerment of expression. Hari employs the use of Contemporary and Indian dance aesthetics in a way that exemplifies the tensions within the character on stage. This movement vocabulary is very interesting and for me it is exemplary of the highly creative artistic expression that is produced by diasporic artists. I particularly enjoyed the way the choreography intertwined with the costume and props.

For me this piece was multi-layered, yes those ideas of oppression and protest were evident, but there was also a deep spiritual underpinning throughout the piece. Ideas of losing yourself, finding yourself in a place where you never thought you would be, westernisation and selling yourself short were all there for me. I walked out of the auditorium with a deep conviction that the only way true growth really occurs is through the process of purging all those things we collect along the way, shedding the weight and becoming truly vulnerable to ourselves and to those around us. To take the risk to find yourself spiritually and emotionally, to find your voice.  This piece spoke to me on a deeply personal level, but after speaking to my mother I know that I was not alone, and overwhelming the message from the piece to me was that in order for real change to occur, I have to become naked.

 

Fly From is part of  Game Changer a triple bill of solos performed by Subhash Viman Gorania. Catch the next show at Wolverhampton Arena Theatre on 22nd November,

Featured photo from Sampad


(Disclaimer: I received complimentary tickets for this show; however, this had no implications on my opinion)