The Mission 2003, at Sadlers’ Lilian Baylis Theatre 29 March 2003 was the presentation of a collection of young choreographers’ work organised by Deborah Baddoo’s State of Emergency Limited. Billed as “a fusion of movement that captures the freshness and daring of Black dance” this is a tour that offers an opportunity for British communities to witness or participate in dance derived from the sense and sensibilities of African Diaspora expression in Britain. Set up in 1986, State of Emergency Limited selects choreographers whose source material resides in the British Black community to illustrate that these expressions, infused with Africanist aesthetics, is central not peripheral to mainstream performance. The inventions in movement vocabularies, alternative composition derived in movement and stage space, the textures of verbal and non verbal text make these works inspiration for hegemonic dance expressions. From this perspective mainstream dance pontifications are marginal and on the ground, cutting edge art practice the wellspring of today’s performance art. In this instance “Black” dance modifies these choreographers digging deep, foray, excavations into life, and excavations into identity. Autobiographical ruminations elaborated through movement text of conventional contemporary dance, urban expressions like jazz, hip hop, body popping, African and Caribbean forms like Jamaican dance hall, Capoeira and martial arts, are synthesised, creative choices made as only can be done within the Africanist lexicon. Dance practice in this context seeks to delineate perspectives and describe lived experiences through gesture, word, posture and sound as varied as the diversity re-presented.
In Tsika, Bawren Tavaziva’s reflections of beer halls in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare become playful expressionistic antics that make the women feminine but as able as the men. The imagined context portrays the good and troubled times of living in this African city. Off stage forces interrupt this playful sanctuary on stage and conjures in mind the consequences of poverty endured through dance and music. The dancers along with the music go in and out of this safe space illustrating how movement and sound become cure-all for a people with depreciated agency. The vocabulary of this dance work is a blend of contemporary dance body waves and specifically chosen stances. Zeze Kolstad, Jake Nwogu, and Delene Gordon accompany Bawren Tavazaiva who choreographs, dances, and derives his music from Kandindo (from Zaire then developed in Zimbabwe) and reggae music.
Don’t Stop Me Now, Irven Lewis work is repetitious and long but maybe that is the point. Jerky, syncopated, pulsated; chugged jump movements expressed the tangled relationships of the protagonist. Lewis magnifies infidelity by focusing with humour and wit the consequences of a man balancing the women in his life. The time worn love triangle of two women and a man is portrayed in this dance work that begins and ends with the same dynamic: hard, long, strong and relentless. This too is perhaps the point making the meter of the piece a metaphor for the protagonist’s pursuits. Movement virtuosity exists in the combination of rhythm with combined polyrhythm in arms and legs, torso and head. The protagonist centre stage travels from stage right female space to stage left female space leaving or exchanging personal articles in his wake. This becomes his down fall as the women use his shirt to literally hang him in the end making the shirt a metaphor illustrating male promiscuity out of control. This work manipulates a vernacular vocabulary of street dance, jazz, hip hop and jungle to express an imagined or perhaps lived experience. Andrea Franklin and Marie Ines Alonso Herrero accompany Irven Lewis who also plays the protagonist in this work.
Maria Ryan’s work holds a mirror up for all women to challenge individual ethics and rituals that legitimise the mutilation of self physically and spiritually to fit alternative beauty standards. Locks, Crops & Two Smoking Hot Combs metaphorically asks, whose beauty standards are worth the burning and disfiguring of identity through the burning and disfiguring of scalp and hair? Armed with blow dryers, sistas face off in an imaginary duel to kill “bad hair” one for straight, one for nap. Rommi Smith preaches the tribulations of dealing with all kinds of locks whether they are straight, curly, or locked, blond or dark brown. With sweaters as manes or Smith discussing the effects of rain, this work was an opportunity to laugh at what a woman will do fit someone else’s idea of what she should look like. What does that do to her “head” literally and metaphorically? Ryan accompanied with Joanne Moven give a humorous yet poignant look at a very real life dilemma portrayed through contemporary dance.
Video footage of Waitikibuli a Caribbean island of Dominica meaning ‘Tall is her Body’ becomes the backdrop for Michael Joseph’s dance work of the same name. Joseph is in his element as he juxtaposes live movement of dancers Chris Bradley, Jake Nwogu, and Nicole McSkimming with projected video footage arranged on Music 2000 (CodeMasters) by Playstation. The dancers in luminous white cottons move inverted and pedestrian like through this flight of fancy that illustrates the varied moods of this island’s terrain. Joseph has cultivated his own movement signature from martial art, Capoeira, B Boy derivatives that move complimenting or countering visual imagery of the video. The image of a shore line ebb and flow set the time of the tide that with sea gulls and dancers takes us into a scape of change from light to dusk and culminates with an image of the moon. There is no story to tell here only the sense of an event located in a liminal space chosen by Joseph to lure audience members to reflect, to relish mixed media sensibilities of movement and video imagery.
Robert Hylton is already on a mission of his own investigating his personal liminal space of movement vocabularies through the improvisatory act. Three Steps teases out and reshapes with a twist of facing, augmentation or subtraction of arm or leg gesture Hylton’s affirmation of urban, contemporary and ballet movement. Hylton’s work is about on the spot creative process as he takes the audience through it whether they care to understand it or not. The audience witnessed Hylton’s improvised solo that drew on his eclectic embodiment of several movement vocabularies to supply his spur of the moment movement quotes. Like Charlie Parker and his saxophone mixing be bop with jazz ballads, Hylton quotes from his diverse movement experiences. Its not superficial, his kind of performing which takes time to nurture and arrive articulate and recognisable. Hylton’s embodied knowledge encompasses hip-hop but also recycles ballet and contemporary dance. Arm and leg gestures without content seem out of sink with the expected but with the Billy Biznizz mixing of Ryo Kawazaki Japanese guitar music providing another layer of abstract expression or is it manipulation, the total effect of multitextured music and dance vocabularies is complete. Scratching DJ sound effects interspersed with guitar music juxtaposition sound like the juxtaposition of moves. Body pop and weave, assemblé, passé even spiral fandango like, moves. Who is this work really for? The audience witnesses Hylton’s journey. Clad in red even on head and hands, Hylton’s abstraction is a transformation of self. Classic urban, ballet and contemporary dance jargon coalesce to makes his “physicalography” transcendence.
THEA NERISSA BARNES