Clore Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Thea Barnes
Now in its third year, Summer Collection 2006 presents two programs of contemporary dance called New Currents (28 June-8 July) and Something Big (18 July-29 July).
New Currents, curated by Tim Tubbs of UK Foundation for Dance, is intended to illustrate current cross cultural dance making. Tubbs states in the program notes that the works draw on performance traditions or aesthetics of “global cultures”. A label intended to compliment, only confused the politics connected with making dance and did nothing to illustrate the complexity and character of each work presented.
Of particular interest were the solos choreographed and performed by Jackie Guy (presented 28 June) and Francis Angol and Andile Sotiya (presented 7 July). These works drew from the immensity that is the African Diaspora and reveals how dance is used to illustrate tenacity, resistance and defiance.
Jackie Guy: Innings 84 Not Out
This solo is an autographic proclamation acknowledging faith and creativity. Dressed in white tunic and pants with a picture of his mother projected on the back drop, Guy danced within a slash of white light that defined a diagonal space from upstage left to downstage right. The dance broken into two sections, first Birth/Growth and Development and second, Celebration and Thanksgiving were supported by eloquent words spoken by Angela Wynter and music by Peter Tosh and Claude Challe.
In the first section with Wynter speaking of a child growing up, pictures of Guy at 6 months, 6 years, then as a young dancer became the back drop for this scholar of Caribbean, particularly Jamaican dance practices. Movement phrases containing undulations, curves of the spine and the placement of sole of foot and heel were subtle and refined as only a performer of Guy’s maturity could render.
The second section was more vivid in tempo and dynamic with Guy illustrating carnival like rhythms, hip swings, subtle gyrations, and undulating arms with Kumina steps. Towards the end, wearing a red, yellow and green hat, Guy speaks of his Mother who is 84 years old. Standing upstage centre, poised facing the picture of his mother and spiralled around to speak to the audience Guy’s unflinching gaze accompanies his culminating performative statement: “innings 84, not out”. The metaphor, life a game you play and its challenge your turn at bat is made poignantly clear, making the audience a witness to Guy and his mother’s tenacity in life.
Francis Angol: Ritual Of Entrapment
Dressed in black vest, red bandanna, black and blue print neck tie, blue jeans and several white shirts, Angol sits on his heels in a pool of white light downstage left. Words on the back drop indicate an inquiry addressing the audience to contemplate what he or she sees. On the back drop photographic images depict an assortment of styles of dress and hair that reveal the politics of the wearer. Hair and dress make a statement especially if tight pants sport the Union Jack and that
hair is shaved or dred loc.
With his right arm pointing to the side in and out as if to say see that, see this, see me, Angol begins his dance composed of Africanist movement and western contemporary dance vocabularies. Several movement phrases are repeated without variation throughout the dance.
With music by Melo X and Bongolo, Angol jumps, undulates, steps with lunges then touches his face and torso with a gaze that is transfixed, almost stolid, in even the most dynamic movement phrases.
Angol disrobes, peeling off each layer of clothing piece by piece with occasional flurries of movement between each disrobed garment. Dressed in Union Jack shirt and jeans, Angol exits the spot leaving the clothes heaped on the floor and enters another spot of light downstage right to repeat phrases again. Most notable is a signature jump that springs into the air with flexed feet.
Continued movement of the same quality takes Angol to a centre spot where he takes off his Union Jack shirt and jeans to reveal a black tank top and shorts. Towards the end Dele Fatunla recites words that end “for to see is not to see….”
With clothes in a heap and reiterating several key movement phrases, Angol’s solo spent more time moving around the space than developing its intention. The dance is too long and self indulgent but does have a point. “To see is not to see” seems Angol’s proposition. Ritual of Entrapment reveals clothes mask variables and permutations of culture that make an individual who he is. Can one really see who a person is in a particular hair cut or pair of pants? Angol’s disrobing becomes the crux of his resistance.
Andile Sotiya: Still/Here
Sotiya wearing flip flops, trousers, tank top and wool over coat, enters from house left door of the Clore Studio walking direct and methodical. The walk done with a measured pace takes Sotiya on a journey in subdued light in a square that follows the full circumference of the performance area. Arriving back downstage right facing the audience with an intense gaze Sotiya takes off the coat and lays it on the floor.
With a short rope in his hand which he also places on the floor Sotiya stands and we notice a protrusion from the crouch of his pants. Walking backward straight upstage, Sotiya pulls the protrusion out to reveal a tennis ball. Sotiya squeezes and bounces the ball as methodically as he walks - his gaze even more intense. Making several gestures as if to throw the ball and with one great surge of energy from the length of his body Sotiya throws the ball at the audience. The hurl was so intense, the focus so deliberate that audience members braced for impact.
Sotiya, looking caged, progresses on holding the ball as if it were a weapon. He hurdles it several more times. Eventually it seems the ball takes on a life of its own. With Sotiya’s exuded energy it leads him tumbling, stumbling, flaying full body, hurdling through space. Then jumping in a back bend that makes his heels meet the back of his head the movement continues with rolls accompany slides on knees done in break neck speed. This is contemporary dance but performed for its dynamic effect not its body design. The cascade of movement calms and Sotiya tosses the ball to an audience member. The moves that follow are similar to what has gone before but have become more self flagellation with Sotiya uttering the word “still”. So intense, so graphic that some audience members perhaps feeling their place as voyeur is exposed try to avert Sotiya’s gaze.
The word “still” triggers more flurries of movement that simmer to a physical stillness. While Sotiya stands motionless a piano score plays with an odd balance between lyrical and dissonant sounds by Clive Wilkinson. Shortly, Sotiya utters the phrase “how can you ask me to dance?” to which he answers himself “no” and “me?”, finishing by asking an audience member for his ball. Flinching and startled spectators at last giggle as Sotiya retrieves the rope and coat and exited the same way he entered.
Although having never seen it, program notes state that Sotiya has been fascinated by Bill T. Jones’s dance work of the same title - with its commentary, meaning and relevance of the words. First performed in December 2005 this performance of Still/Here saw Sotiya seemingly smash his body into the floor as if to destroy his self. Never the less, the work is a metaphor with several symbols that can be read in a variety of ways. For example the coat; a suitable cover to hide and then to reveal or the ball; an object likened to the performative self to be hurled at the audience and into the performance space.
All three dances express an outlook, a perspective on life and living. Guy’s solo takes a veteran’s view; it is a reminder that devotion is required for the process of life to be successful and faith to persevere. Angol’s work is one of frustration and ambivalence. One concludes from Angol’s dance that clothes and hair are a manifestation that camouflages an honest appraisal of identity. Finally Sotiya’s piece is one of defiance, bitter acquiesce; a physically manic statement of an individual vilifying self as he implores the audience to acknowledge his testimony of exasperation. Each solo in its own way questioned the audience and challenged the dance maker, illustrating three possible modes for devising dance in the African Diaspora.