Wednesday, 17 July 2019

REVIEW: Jaivant Patel Dance presents a South Asian queer lens in YAATRA

Tue 16 July
Blue Elephant Theatre
Jaivant Patel Dance - YAATRA

Jaivant Patel Dance presents an evening of solo Kathak dance, exploring the intersection of faith and sexuality within the context of his Indian heritage. Patel's performance is both vulnerable and resolute as he delves into his own narrative as an LGBTQ+ man of South Asian descent.

The stage is bear but with gold bells suspended from the ceiling. The ringing of a bell marks the beginning of the piece, just as it marks the beginning of worship and the invoking of gods and goddesses in pooja (prayer or worship). Patel is dressed in a long red tunic and pants with a gold scarf draped over his shoulder. His eyes follow gestural hands and gaze out across the audience. Lost in Hassan Mohyeddin's percussive score, Patel smiles, striking his feet and gliding through the space.

YAATRA is woven with feminine motifs that emphasise a sense of gender fluidity. In one section, the lights drop, illuminating only Patel's ankles. Patel's feet move quickly and rhythmically as his heels beat the ground. Our attention is drawn to the ghungroo (ankle bells) around his ankles and his painted toenails: it's possible to be both masculine and feminine at once. This dream-like sequence is interrupted by a woman shouting. Patel sits down, and the words "boys don't wear scarves... boys don't wear nail varnish" punctuate the quiet. Patel's personal journey to understanding his sexual and gender identity is evident throughout YAATRA with these moments of cultural divergency.

YAATRA also challenges the gender binaries present in Indian mythology and epic tales. Although classical Indian dance, like Kathak, typically sees men playing women and women playing men, love stories never play out between actors of the same sex. Patel seeks to challenge this heteronormativity and asks what these narratives would look like with a male performer playing the role of a genderqueer hero falling in love with his male god.

Patel doesn't proclaim to be a classically trained Kathak dancer, instead he uses the dance form as a point of reference for his Indian heritage. Freed of a codified dance technique, YAATRA presents a man who is liberated and free to be himself. As he mentioned in the post-show Q&A, Patel's aim isn't to present more "boxes" for people to squeeze their identities into, but rather the possibility of a gender fluidity where gender and sexuality don't need to categorisation. As Patel noted in the Q&A, walking into a space of ritual can be a difficult experience for those from the LGBTQ+ community. YAATRA successfully breaks down these boundaries to create a safe space for an intimate exploration of these narratives within the context of South Asian worship.

Maya Pindar

Monday, 20 May 2019

REVIEW: Tracing Paces at Grow Tottenham

Sat 18 May
Grow Tottenham
Tracing Paces

Founded by Maisie Sadgrove, Tracing Paces hosts a series of not-for-profit immersive and community-based dance projects and workshops. Like many of the urban venues that Tracing Paces occupy, Grow Tottenham represents the decreasing number of public spaces available in cities. The event showcased live dance, an art installation and participatory activities within the setting of the community garden. 

Tracing Paces at Grow Tottenham

Sadgrove's site specific dance work is the result of four months of creation at Grow Tottenham. The work begins slowly with four dancers emerging in a clump, shuffling quickly, somewhere between zippy and jittery. The shuffling comes to an abrupt stop and the group disperse. The group draw together again, but this time they're slower, grounded and almost syrupy in their limbs. Arms thread outwards, like young shoots from the soil. Moving between bags of compost, planting borders and wooden crates, the work reflects the changing seasons in the garden.

Tracing Paces at Grow Tottenham

Moments of surprise keep the piece moving forward. While a woman gestures sowing seeds, two others disappear behind her amongst planting troughs. Behind her, legs begin to slowly extend between the troughs. One, then two, then three, then four, rise and fall. The rising leg motif reappears later in the form of an extended arm with a broken wrist, resembling the rows of dead sunflowers in the garden. The quietness of the work is punctuated by the sound of chatter, traffic and birdsong; a perfect pedestrian soundtrack.

Tracing Paces at Grow Tottenham

Sadgrove does well to bring people together in a forgotten public space. The work is peaceful and reflective, and serves to be a brilliant reminder of the quiet spaces that exist amongst the urban sprawl. 

Maya Pindar

Find out more about Tracing Paces here.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

REVIEW: Elephant in the Room: Lenry Malaolu opens a candid conversation about mental health amongst young black men

Fri 12 Apr
Camden People's Theatre
Lenre Malaolu - Elephant in the Room

Lanre Malaolu sparks an important and increasingly relevant dialogue with Elephant in the Room. You might expect a conversation about mental health to be somewhat bleak, but Malaolu's depiction of a young black man pushing through everyday life is both witty and profound. Fusing spoken word, hip-hop and physical theatre, the explosive solo draws upon the coping mechanisms and feelings of being 'stuck' that are generated by a culture of dismissal.

PC: Camilla Greenwell

The piece begins with the struggle to get out of bed. Malaolu, playing Michael, writhes on the floor, rolling and straining to push himself up, only to sink back into the floor again. From the outset, Malaolu's exploration of depression and anxiety is vivid and poignant.

Elephant in the Room is episodic, flitting between scenes in the Hackney football pitch where Michael coaches under-16s, the barber shop, the street, the doctor's surgery, and Nando's, where his friends tell him to "snap out of it". As we shift back and forth through these episodes, we move steadily through the darkness and light within Michael's life. Dark scenes of helplessness are interjected with lighthearted humour and caricatures of people we all familiar with. 

PC: Camilla Greenwell

Malaolu addresses the experience of being both in the midst of an emotional breakdown and not being able to talk openly about it. It's here that he skillfully engages with the intersection between toxic masculinity, mental health and race. His feelings of loneliness and fear of a downward spiral are dismissed and denied by every other man in his life. Michael is repeatedly told that he's just in a phase: he's active, fit, has a job and just needs to "dominate". 

PC: Camilla Greenwell

By opening up about his own experiences of depression and anxiety, Malaolu opens up a conversation that most young men, especially those from ethnic minority groups, don't feel able to engage with. Malaolu has pointed at the elephant in the room, and now we need to talk about it.

Maya Pindar

Elephant in the Room continues at Camden People's Theatre until 20 April 2019.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

REVIEW: Ballet Black serves up an electric triple bill

Fri 15 Mar
The Barbican Centre
Ballet Black - Triple Bill

To mark Ballet Black's 18th season, Artistic Director Cassa Pancho presents an exciting triple bill: a restoration of Pendulum, first performed ten years ago; Click!, a playful work choreographed by Sophie Laplane; and finally the exquisite Ingoma, created by Ballet Black's very own Mthuthuzeli November, the first company member commissioned to create a main stage ballet.

In Pendulum, dancers Sayaka Ichikawa and Mthuthuzeli November oscillate through suspension and powerful shifts of movement. Set to Steve Reich's rumbling score, the short duet swings between moments of combat and intimacy, as Ichikawa and November circle one another and then launch into fleshy phrases. The duo move with exact precision: clean lines and perfect fouettés. This, combined with rippling shoulders and sumptuously deep lunges, demonstrates Ballet Black's skill and ability to hybridise dance forms.

Click! PC: Bill Cooper

Click!, Laplane's episodic exploration of the gestural meanings of clicking the fingers, is both groovy and tender. With the dancers dressed in bright suits and lit with coloured spotlights, Click! has a distinctly 80s feel to it. While Ebony Thomas and Marie Astrid Mence's duet is playful and cartoon-like, José Alves and Cira Robinson's duet is wrought with tender embraces. They cling to one another, pushing their foreheads together as they shift through moments of contact; they're a couple that just 'click' together.

Ingoma, PC: Bill Cooper

The highlight of the night, Ingoma, starts slowly. The dancers tread about a dark stage in wellies, hoisting rope over their shoulders and tipping buckets of dirt onto the floor. A huddled conversation and the dimming of the lights marks the beginning of a turbulent and powerful narrative. Choreographed by November, the piece delves into the loss and pain precipitated by the 1940s South African miners' strike, where over 1200 workers were injured and at least 9 killed. Ingoma has a relentless energy that propels the dancers through the movement. Even in moments of quiet and stillness, there's a driving rhythm that bubbles beneath the surface. Ichikawa's portrayal of a woman who's lost her partner to the strikes is captivating. A fist pumping motif used by the company develops from a powerful symbol of resistance to an image of the strained protests of a grief-stricken woman who's lost her loved-one. Ingoma demonstrates not only the individual physicality of each dancer, but their strength as an assembly. The company move as one beast, sweeping across the shadowy space, pick-axes above their heads and fists held high.

Ingoma, PC: Mthuthuzeli November

While Pancho is triumphant in her objective of opening ballet up to black and ethnic minority dancers by creating an entire troupe of BAME role models, it seems her aim of making Ballet Black obsolete is still far off. Last year, ENB came under criticism for splashing images of first artist Precious Adams across their marketing campaign for Swan Lake, despite Adams not being cast as a principle for the production. Tokenism? You decide. In the very same year Adams also came under criticism herself for refusing to wear pink ballet tights, in favour of flesh tone tights that matched her own skin tone.

For now, regardless of whether or not Ballet Black become redundant, there will indeed still be a place for the company's artistic talent, distinctive repertory and identity.

Maya Pindar

Ballet Black's triple bill continues at Barbican Centre until 17 March

Saturday, 9 March 2019

REVIEW: Shelley Owen and Josh Slater in TRY|TRYING|TRIED at Blue Elephant Theatre

Fri 08 Mar
Blue Elephant Theatre
Shelley Owen and Josh Slater - TRY|TRYING|TRIED

Contemporary dance artists Shelley Owen and Josh Slater explore the vulnerability of human relationships. The opening of the episodic duet sees Owen and Slater sat side-by-side on chairs upstage. They could be two strangers in a train station or a couple in their own kitchen. Owen moves softly with arms that sweep and thread. Dressed in jeans and t-shirts, the couple run and walk about the space. There is nothing formal, nor pretentious, about TRY|TRYING|TRIED.

Josh Slater and Shelley Owen in TRY|TRYING|TRIED

The duo step forward toward two tidy piles of clothes, folded carefully on blocks. They layer up, pulling on long-sleeves, jumpers, hats and scarfs over their heads. The tone changes: suddenly it's a competition. The couple pose provocatively on the blocks, arching their backs and throwing their heads back. The competitive posing eventually ends with Owen and Slater scrabbling around on the floor tearing at their clothes until both are naked but for their underwear.  

The soundscape of pedestrian sounds, chatter and rail announcements gives way to the retro soul of Paloma Faith's Just Be. Clad in a black bra and underpants, Owen opens a bottle of red wine and sets out two glasses. While Slater carefully folds the clothes that are now strewn about the space, Owen drinks half the bottle of wine. A distinctly somber tone seems to permeate TRY|TRYING|TRIED during this episode. Despite how affecting Paloma Faith's lyrics are, it might have been more moving to see Owen polish off that half a bottle of wine in total silence. 

Shelley Owen and Josh Slater in TRY|TRYING|TRIED

TRY|TRYING|TRIED honestly reveals the sensitivity and vulnerability of intimate relationships. Overall, Owen and Slater present a refreshingly unpretentious and honest work of dance, which left me simply wanting more. I wanted to know more about the competition within the relationship and I wanted more about that half a bottle of red wine. 

Maya Pindar

TRY|TRYING|TRIED continues for one more night at Blue Elephant Theatre on Sat 09 March 2019. For more information and to book tickets head over to the website.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

REVIEW: Uchenna Dance's Hansel & Gretel has the whole family bouncing in their seats

Thurs 20 Dec
The Place
Uchenna Dance - Hansel & Gretel

Choreographer Vicki Igbokwe retells the classic story of Hansel & Gretel, amalgamating house, waacking, vogue and forms of African and contemporary dance in the children's search for home. Igbokwe's version sees the two fearless siblings embark on a journey from their childhood hometown, dropping them in the middle of the hustle and bustle of busy London. Colourful, quirky and set to the funkiest 90s RnB and Ghanaian pop sounds, Hansel & Gretel has the whole family bouncing in their seats.

PC: Foteini Christofilopoulou

A soundscape of city traffic accompanies the children and their guardian, Wasi, as they journey by boat to the UK. The score is overlaid with the repeating voiceover: "same boat makes us family". Lines like this ring true for those who's parents or grandparents arrived in Britain some decades ago, and who's roots grew within the same communities with which they arrived in Britain. Rather than following breadcrumbs, Hansel and Gretel follow a string of landmarks that lead to them from Kings Cross Station to Brixton. Separated from Wasi, the two siblings boldly take on the care system and the adults they come into contact with, including, of course, the evil witch.

PC: Foteini Christofilopoulou

The duo dip and dive, as they tease and hide from one another, sticking their tongues out and waggling their fingers. The cast are light on their feet, chasing each other through moments of physical theatre, acrobatic inversions and cool, funky house. Undulating torsos and unfurling arms are set atop deep transfers of weight. Igbokwe's choreography is bright, fun and silky smooth.

While Hansel & Gretel is certainly aimed at children and young people, there is plenty for the adults in the audience too. Igbokwe quietly points towards the implicit socio-political backdrop of migration that hangs behind the themes of home, youth and family in Hansel & GretelA socially and politically conscious work of dance, Hansel & Gretel is woven with reminders of the Windrush, the current debate on borders and immigration, and the UK state care system which awaits many unaccompanied arrivals.

PC: Foteini Christofilopoulou

PC: Foteini Christofilopoulou

However, the strength of Hansel & Gretel lies in Igbokwe's ability to create a truly family-friendly experience that not only engages children but includes them too. Dancers Esme Benjamin, Rudzani Moleya, Mayowa Ogunnaike and Marc Stevenson enlist the audience's help in games of Hide and Seek and What's the Time Mr Wolf, encouraging the children to point and shout out at the dancers. Towards the end, the children are invited on stage to dance along to Composer and Sound Designer Kweku Aacht's eclectic score. 

PC: Foteini Christofilopoulou

Igbokwe's Hansel and Gretel are resourceful, courageous children. By thinking on their feet and using their imagination, they take control of their lives and their own destinies. Above all, 
Igbokwe is triumphant in creating dance that is not only accessible and fun, but that engages the next generation of young dance makers and audience members.

Maya Pindar

Thursday, 22 November 2018

REVIEW: Ella&co's #nofilter on millennial life and social media

Wed 21 Nov
Blue Elephant Theatre
Ella&co - #nofilter

Do you find yourself constantly reaching for your phone? Endlessly reading self-help Buzzfeed articles? Instagram-ing your smashed avocado on toast? Sharing your #yoga journey [prayer hand emoji] on Facebook? Obsessing over Kim K? Sorting a #cheekyNandos on the group chat? Or dreaming of the guy or gal who will also swipe right to you, initiating (hopefully) a Tinder-induced whirlwind romance? You could be (god forbid) a millennial. 

Dancers Eva Escrich and Julia Jordan in #nofilter (PC: 
Lidia Crisafulli)

In #nofilter, Ella&co take us on a journey of self-confession in the era of social media and pop culture. Beginning with a ping!, #nofilter is cheeky and playful from the outset. The piece is episodic, steering us through short sections that start and finish abruptly, as if we're scrolling through a newsfeed onstage. A torrent of notification alerts separates each section, swiping the dancers across the stage into the next section. My favourite one? The Sims: set to the reassuring and bouncy sound of The Sims soundtrack, dancers Julia Jordan and Eva Escrich wander about the stage, glassy eyed and uncoordinated, waving their arms above their heads at their gamers. 

Dancers Julia Jordan and Ella Fleetwood in #nofilter (Lidia Crisafulli)

The dancers are light and easy on their feet. They shift comfortably through moments of unison, short monologues, freeze frames and contact improvisation. They're a versatile cast with bold energy and personality. Amy Morvell's reaction at being left out (or FOMO "fear of missing out" as the programme notes explain in the "Millennial Dictionary"), is easy to empathise with. There is no worse feeling than seeing a Boomerang of your friends, clinking glasses and "having the time of their lives" without you. We've all been there.

Dancers Amy Morvell and Eva Escrich in #nofilter (PC: Lidia Crisafulli)

Overall, choreographer Ella Fleetwood is successful in creating a work of dance that is both thought-provoking and fun. She does well to question the impacts of social media and the constant use of screens on our wellbeing and mental health. Are our online profiles a true reflection of our "real" selves? Have we altered the way we look at ourselves and our peers? Have we become addicted to the instant gratification of our phones and online profiles?

Dancers Eva Escrich and Julia Jordan in #nofilter (PC: Lidia Crisafulli)

As Ella noted in the post-show Q&A, despite the company's work with 11-19 year-olds, some of the references in #nofilter will go over the heads of younger audiences. But does this really matter? Is #nofilter truly a commentary on millennial life? Or is it, rather, a broader commentary on the workings of social media, especially for a generation of young people who have increasingly never experienced life without it?

With its tiny stage and cosy seating, Blue Elephant Theatre's intimate setting conceals nothing. It is definitely a venue for emerging dance artists willing to showcase the bare essentials of their choreography- and in this case Ella&co present honest, bare dance that does not need to hide behind production frills.

Maya Pindar

Find out more about ella&co and other upcoming events and performances here!