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Flash Review Journal, 12-5: 1+1 = Hip; Union of 3
Night Club Rituals at The Place; Positive Migration Message from Mantsoe, Tavaziva, and Elkins on Union Dance

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2002 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- Julie Dossavi, Benin-born and French-based contemporary dancer, and Tippa, a Jamaican dance hall celebrity, were first up on a double bill at The Place last week, part of HIP, a three-week season of Black dance, workshops and talks designed to celebrate the 'hipness' of black culture. HIP is a new venture organized by Brenda Edwards, a ballerina with attitude who was the first black woman to dance with English National Ballet.

Dossavi gave an exquisite performance which fused the global face of club music and DJ culture with traditional/non-western ritual. In the tradition of Benin dance, the dancer story-tells using gesture, facial expressions and movement. Dossavi adapts this African dance style to the urban beat of the DJ, translating ritual to popular culture. With knees bent to lower her center of gravity, she stamps into the ground while sending undulations through the spine and arms transmitting energy from the ground up to the sky, in supplication of the Gods. Much of the time Dossavi is very mechanical, moving on the beat with a razor sharp accuracy. There are quiet moments when she moves body parts in isolation, such as a finger or her head, but then will suddenly explode into big muscular movements. She starts slowly and methodically and builds up the pace, but even in her wildest moments she seems robotically in control.

While watching Dossavi strutting round the stage or performing repetitive gyrations with arms held high, I suddenly think about how similar clubbers look as they dance in an ecstatic trance. Only Dossavi has a much richer repertoire of movement and sense of rhythm than your average clubber.

"Go"'s abstract narrative tells the story of a black woman who arrives from her native country into the urban hysteria of the American city at night. We see images of concrete mayhem on the streets, dimly lit underground car parks, traffic, flashing lights. The club sounds are provided by the hyper cool and still DJ Karim and DJ Abel, who know exactly how to work the crowd, not to mention the dancer. Dossavi travels through each sound as assuredly as the last, embodying the general aggressive tone of music, neon and edgy night life. There is no trace of this African woman being phased by a big daunting U.S. city. She also marks a change from the fluid soft releasing of so much contemporary dance with her radically different disjointed, punctuated choreography. As the programme says, Dossavi "embodies the queen of the techno nightclub and the priestess of ritual ceremony" and shows us how club culture is rooted in ritual.

While Dossavi's nocturnal journey is a little too long, Tippa's "100% & full 100" is too short, truncated by, maybe, his disappointment with the audience's sober attitude. Charming and charismatic, Tippa is king of Ragga -- otherwise known as Jamaican dance-hall -- and has spent years developing this dance style inspired by the rhythms and sounds of '80s reggae. With his white ripped jeans and his glinting smile, Tippa dances to his favorite music as if he's at his local club, almost lip-synching in his enthusiasm, but suddenly decides he's had enough. Grabbing a mike he asks each member of the audience to bring a friend the following night and says farewell. Comments from members of audience amount to "he got off lightly." But short and sweet, this rude boy gets away with it.


In Union Dance's "Permanent Revolution Virtual 2 Reality," on view through tonight at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in South Bank, Vincent Mantsoe, Bawren Tavaziva and associate choreographer Doug Elkins all explore migration and transition from one society to another through time, space and virtual reality. In each of the three pieces, sound, visual graphics and dance capture the same culturally diverse spirit as in HIP, although in 'V2R' edges between real and virtual are blurred by visual and multi-media artists Derek Richards and Thomas Gray.

Mantsoe, from South Africa, describes a place of warmth and hope, an idyllic homeland, but at the same time questions where migration begins and ends. "Fallela" is a duet set against digitally created visuals of dappled skies and wind blown grasses, an idealistic search for something better. Mantsoe's choreographic style is challenging and unique, fuelled by many different South African dance styles and fused with western contemporary dance.

Zimbabwean born Tavaziva's trio is more a narrative about the making of friends, establishing trust and respect for other customs and modes of communication. Three individuals who struggle to keep their identities while getting to know one another go on a bumpy ride to find some common ground, conveyed by disjointed choreography, aggressive computer treated sound and harsh vertical visuals. While the look of this piece is hard edged and the choreography at times suggests conflict, the dancers nevertheless manage to find comradeship through mutual learning.

Elkins's "Fractured Atlas" is dominated by a huge hanging globe onto which is mapped a collage of images -- skin, hair, organs, clouds, colors. This piece for the whole company is a melting pot of sounds, styles and colors, a kind of optimistic resolution where individuals' experiences shine through. The upbeat mood of this work suggests positive cultural exchange rather than consuming, bullying globalization. With treated music by the likes of Talvin Singh, James Brown and Orishas the sound score is magnificent and very much about individuals responding to their own and other cultural experiences rather than melting into the amorphous soup of World Music. Elkins's trade mark -- dance from the streets and jazz halls fused with capoeira, contemporary and a bit of ballet -- is performed to the best of all the dancers' capabilities.

Union Dance, a company always worth watching and one which seems to have matured over the years, is totally 'up there' in reflecting our rich global dance scene from a youthful prospective. Here the dancers look comfortable and cool, tackling the many tricky steps with grace and ease, further enhanced by the quietly stylish and movement friendly costumes of Abigail Hammond. While maybe glossing over some of the more problematic cause and effects of migration -- the dispossessed, asylum seekers, global poverty -- 'V2R' certainly illuminates the positive outcome of peoples on the move.

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