Dance Umbrella’s Out of the System Mixed Bill – review

Programmed by Freddie Opoku-Addaie
Bernie Grant Arts Centre
Review by: Mike Scott-Harding
Published: Wednesday, 30th October 2019, 10:38am
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This evening of choreographic works – presented by Freddie Opoku-Addaie as part of the ‘Dance Umbrella 2019’ festival – was certainly a mixed bag.

It presented three new works, and one older piece by an established (if not ‘establishment’) dance figure.

If there was an overarching theme, one could say the four choices dealt with the resolution (of thematic issues if not direct narratives) and dealing with isolation, real or perceived (even within relationships).

Contemporary dance is often criticized for presenting work that is – irrespective of any stylistic or aesthetic considerations – oblique, ambiguous, confusing, lacking in dramatic or thematic propulsion, or simply unwilling to offer the uninitiated viewer a ‘way in’ (either through entertainment or narrative resolution).



The four pieces presented here certainly fly in the face of that idea; all pieces were easy to understand – even of they weren’t always comfortable to watch.

With only four pieces being presented, it must be difficult /impossible to represent the full scope of diverse issues or themes present in the modern world that all (dance) artists are part of, and – by extension – strive to reflect, document, or critique.

However, the lack of a piece dealing with any aspect of LGBTQ issues seemed to be an unfortunate omission. With that being said, the evening’s entertaining – if thematically ‘safe’ – selection represented a relatively good window into modern Contemporary Dance in a diverse contemporary society.

Congratulations to Dance Umbrella, all the performers, and to programmers Freddie Opoku-Addaie and Anthea Lewis for presenting such an entertaining and provocative bill.

The evening’s pieces – in order – were as followed:

1/ FRAGILITY IN MAN – PART 1 (Théo TJ Lowe)

This solo, conceived and performed by Théo TJ Lowe, was both uncomfortable and strikingly familiar. In 15 uncomfortable minutes, the dancer ran (almost) the full gamut of male catatonia: interminable stock-stillness, and (over) long silences, extended periods of standing and/or sitting, frequent spontaneous collapses, uncontrollable twitching – and simulated allusions to masturbation.

Dressed – initially, at least – in a jacket, trousers and shirt ensemble, Theo uses four folding chairs and a series of fractured / fracturing voice-over snippets and ‘drone’ soundscapes to complement and accentuate his onstage disconnection. He punctuates long periods of inactivity with fast bursts of choreographed movement, and whether watching him manipulate his strong, lithe, sinewy body into abnormal – but aesthetically clean and consistent – shapes, dashing his body repeatedly to the floor, or hearing him bark incoherently into a microphone while slumped over a chair, his committed delivery was an uncomfortable joy.

2/ EXHIBIT F – Becky Namgauds

This next solo offers a different expression of modern anxiety; this time, from a female perspective. The dancer appears suddenly in spotlight, kneeling; face obscured, as she leans forward – her long hair hanging down in front of her. Thereafter, she slowly edges forward on her knees, manipulating her hair and back in such a way that she looks like a ‘creature’ – an alien.

As she moves across the floor, she spirals, twists, undulates, and doubles over; all the while fighting with – and making love to – her hair.

It is both a riveting and uncomfortable expression of female body anxiety; an effect heightened by her (waist-up) nakedness, and the drone-effect sound-scape. At points, she reminded me of the ghostly apparition in the ‘Ringu’ movies.The partial nudity is, by no means, gratuitous. In fact, her fluid, articulate movements almost demand it. I’m sure there are/were discussions on whether to perform this piece fully nude. Both the context and dancer’s performance would have made it appropriate. Having said that, the piece was discomfiting – and riveting – enough without exploring that particular trope.

3/ BEYOND WORDS – Ffion Campbell Davies & Tyrone Isaac Stuart

The first – and only – duet starts – and ends – with the female dancer (Campbell-Davies) atop the male dancer’s (Stuart) shoulders.

In between, the two dance while playing saxophone and singing live (in concert with the pre-recorded music / soundscapes), and use each other’s bodies as (literal) ‘stepping stones’; the latter feat certainly seems more impressive when the much larger Stuart steps on/over (the relatively tiny) Campbell Davies.  It is a testament to both their performances that they never drop character or look awkward while using each other as human surfboards, or while zipping in, out, over, and under each other’s bodies; as they ‘strive to navigate the negative space between them’.   Their movements are certainly well executed, committed, and fluid enough to imagine that this piece could very well be extended further. Certainly the artistry presented here by these two ‘performers’ (movement, monologue-ing, singing, saxophone playing, composing, producing, etc.) is a reminder that – even though an artist might oftentimes only express /present themselves through one artistic medium – many among us have far more than just the ‘one string to the bow’.

As the piece reaches its denouement, one could say that ‘we saw it coming’; however, if the journey itself is as entertaining, unexpected, and ‘well put-together’ as this, one doesn’t mind if the hotel might feel slightly familiar.

AEROPLANE MAN – Jonzi D

Finally, we have this celebrated ‘museum piece’ from the legendary Jonzi D.

This exploration of a black British man’s attempts to bond with other black males throughout the worldwide black diaspora (using snippets of music by Bob Marley, among others) is funny, entertaining, and at once a la mode, and strangely anachronistic.

This is not to detract from Jonzi D’s charismatic performance / presence; it’s just that…it just feels slightly dated.

Still, as the round off for such a provocative night of dance, perhaps it’s true what they (sometimes) say: ‘familiarity breeds contentment’. Congratulations to Dance Umbrella, all the performers, and to programmers Freddie Opoku-Addaie and Anthea Lewis for presenting such an entertaining and provocative bill.

NEED TO KNOW: Dance Umbrella’s Out of the System was at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre 22 & 23 Oct 2019 See listing Visit the Dance Umbrella website