Union Dance

Permanent Revolution V2R

by Thea Nerissa Barnes

October 18, 2003 -- Linbury Studio Theatre, London, England

"Fallela," choreographed by Vincent Mantsoe
Music by Stephen Micus, "Birth of Dawn," and Famoudou Konate, "Naabo M’bara"
Performed by Garry Benjamin and Michael Joseph

Two dancers moving in unison, but if you look closely, an arm or a leg or even the rhythm are not quite the same. The opening movement with dancers sitting on their heels also has arms and hands reminiscent of gathering and planting, spreading of seeds -- or is it spreading an essence? It seems the dancers are connecting with some spiritualness. As they begin to move, African ritual gives way to martial art feels. Capoeira-like movements follow as the dancers move in this landscape in an almost random way. The music changes, giving a distinct African-esque blend within the moves, with each dancer adding his own idiosyncratic feel. Until the dancers leave, the dynamic remains moderate, neither slowing nor intensifying. Although reverential, the intentions are only hinted at, and the focus seems intentionally blurred -- or is it introverted? The shadows cast on the cyc allude to two becoming several, making this dance almost mystical, but perhaps not necessarily deep.

"Holla," choreography and music by Bawren Tavaziva
Performed by Jedda Donnelly, Simone Noblett, and Will Thorburn

Three characters, but only one couple, in this dance that is not necessarily a narrative about two’s a couple and three’s a disruption. The choregraphy seems to use the play between each character to reveal subtle differences between the three dancers. Connected by their dissimilarities, the three disconnect, creating an outsider. This outsider intercedes only when it’s at her advantage, although it is not clear what her advantage is. It is also not quite a dance expressing why a man cannot choose, because at every chance, he selects his one and only. Even Thorburn's solo feigns frustration because he is not that frustrated. The movement is graceful and creative, being a merger of contemporary conventions, complete with body waves and Capoeira-like sensibilities. This is a dance needing a few more clarifications or variations in dynamics in the movement -- not pedestrian gestures -- to punctuate why, at the end, Noblett is left alone to watch Donnelly and Thorburn leave together as a couple.

"Fractured Atlas," choreographed by Doug Elkins with the company

A passage in the program hints at the insight that inspired this work: “knowledge is power" (wrote Antonio Gramsci). It is not enough to know a set of relations; one also needs to know them genetically -- every individual is not only a synthesis of existing relation, but also the history. A whimsical romp of vignettes, duets, and ensemble patterns, this dance merges Diaspora dance moves accompanied by quotes of linear balletic-come-contemporary dance lines. The collage of music -- with contributions from Orishas, Derek Richards, Talvin Singh, James Brown, James Carter and Mississippi State Penitentiary prisoners chain gang song, Antonio Carlos, and E Jocafi-- compliment the visual movement scape, an admixture of West African, Jamaican dance hall, martial arts, hip-hop, body pop, and wave motions. At the end, what could be called the coda is a compilation of bits strung together like beads on a string of moves from the aforementioned vocabularies -- recognizable by their shape but not necessarily by their usual recognizable dynamic. With Union dancers, the dynamic is smooth and light, making tumbles barely perceptible as the men, Garry Benjamin and Will Thorburn, roll backward or do hand stands with their heads barely touching the floor. The play between conventions or identities was the intention, and this aspect was well executed.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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