Founded in 1985, IRIE! has distinguished itself as a dance theatre company that specialises in varied educational activities and performances rooted in African and Caribbean aesthetics. Musical foundations in African and Caribbean traditional drumming and percussion and the sounds of Reggae, Ragga, Calypso and Soca with their associated movement vocabularies augment the palette of IRIE!’s choreographers. These particular inspirations instigate alternative approaches to IRIE!’s dance making that in this British context is contemporary with its own intra and intertextual propensities. The dancing making of IRIE! illustrates cultural amalgamations inspired from the multiplicity of expressions found within the dance practices of Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. From these roots, the merger of African, Caribbean, and European dance forms become a vehicle to highlight contextual knowings derived from the lived experiences of those who reside in this British context. As evidenced by this particular program of dance seen at The Albany 10 February 2004, the genre that is contemporary dance is made to accommodate the varied, multiplicity of histories found within the African Diaspora.
“Don’t Test” choreographed by Beverley Glean, Curtis James, and company members of IRIE! 2002 season.
Muted green speckles on the floor, Christy Adesina begins with a sequence of moves incorporating lyrical gestures and bumps like boogie trailing through arms and spine that complimented breakdance like antics. Simone Foster and Michelle Kwarteng followed with their individual and ensemble dance moves that were accompanied with filmed images on one of the six drapes that served as a fragmented cyclorama. The music was very loud and the projections only barely discernable but did not take away from the dancers. The dancers worked their special brand of performance magic despite this audible and visual competition. Each dancer made a movement statement that said a lot about who each of them was and the texture of their experience as dancers as well as people.
A duet between Denzil Barnes and Natalie Simon-Clifford followed these movement statements. This intriguing and emotionally layered duet was a dialogue that ranged between dispirited encounters; playful teasing and an angry rebuke that dissolved into acquiescence. There was an intriguing trio between Kwarteng, Simon-Clifford and Adesina, low impact combat play with verbal comments to incite action that stayed on the edge of martial art antics but was inventive and a joy to watch. The dancers seemed to really enjoy performing it as well.
A red special stood used as a metaphor for a prize or cherished goal gave the dancers an object to whirl around, dare to touch and defend. This section had bits of lyrical moves with rhythmic slips and bumps portraying moves for possession of the light. Black out flip to white light becoming a blaze highlighted struggles and reaches that accelerated so much that by the time the last dancer stole the light she deserved it and you wanted her to have it. This section dissipated and in the place of the light stood Barnes flaunting his distinct kind of prowess. More Ensemble moves with music by Roots Manuva: Run come Save Me; This is Jungle: CD1; Augustus Pablo: Skanking with Pablo; Orbital: Belfast; The Buzz: Sting we a Sting, Shock we a Shock.
A walk done by Adesina eluding to a street wise attitude had an urban feel but was also somehow rural or just from a place in the world where hips are encouraged to move individually, for knees to yield to the earth not resist weight and shoulders to roll in complimentary rhythm to the elasticity of the spine. All company members did their individual expression of this body narrative that was performed between an array of Jamaican and contemporary dance forms. An episodic escapade with dance that illustrated test and trails with possible solutions that all watching the dance could imagine even empathise with. This work was episodic with sections that had movement abstractions, metaphoric tellings or simply expressionistic. Ultimately this dance work was successful and a pleasure to watch.
“Icon” choreographed by Lincoln Allert
An icon is a symbol, an image or representation of a person or ideal that is venerated or uncritically admired. Inspired by the imagery of Maya Angelou and Ted Joans and numerous other memories, poetry and musical asunder this work has a good start but gets cluttered temporally as well as spatially under its own ponderance. A “hanging” instrument dangles dead centre and as the dance progresses each performer adds a bit of his or her costume to it. The figure that results suggests 17th century clothing conjuring illusions of colonial times and all those historical remembrances of migration, self imposed and forced and the peregrinations of displaced peoples. This figure though becomes an obstacle affecting the staging confining the dancers to the corners of the stage. There were some nice moments for the dancers but these were overshadowed by the figure that received minimal attention from the dancers who only draped it or gave long glances in awe of it. When the figure is complete, jazz music of a particular discordance is heard but the frustration of this music is not quite fulfilled by the dancers. Though wonderful dancers, this particular subtlety in mood is not quite captured by them. There is no shortage of movement in the work though that merged lyrical lifts with urban stance, walks, hip rolls and full body sequences. The ensemble movement towards the end suffers from encroachment of the figure; imposing even more so when hoisted above the dancers. From this height the figure usurped attention and became an over powering image that sucked all the attention away from the dancers leaving them mute and almost in the shadows. Maybe that was the point.
“Got it covered” choreographed by Beverley Glean
Christi Adesina who took the stage and relished every moment and millimetre of it started this wonderful work. Adesina has an excellent technical and performance skill. Adesina danced with elegance and pride in a simple white shift moving about the stage with sassy hip rolls and gentle turns that simmered and breezed along until Denzil Barnes snatched the white dress to reveal a vibrant red one. From here all broke loose with Jamaican traditional and dance hall urban antics merged with contemporary lyrical lines and ensemble spatial arrangements of solo, duets, and trios. At one point Adesina moved about the stage pulling cords that unravelled orange, yellow, green, blue, turquoise, purple and red silks. Entering several times from either sides of the stage, the rest of the company added their individual movement interpretations and attitudinal accents. The elegant filtered in with the humorous, sensuality interlaced with prowess, bombast alternated with coolness. It became a celebration and what a joyful, jubilant finish it was!!
This performance at the Albany was the fist on a national tour that will take IRIE! to Cumbria and Liverpool with performances in London at Jacksons Lane and Lilian Baylis in March.
THEA NERISSA BARNES