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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
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
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.
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'
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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