“He saw the best in me when no one else did,” Ishimwa, leopard print-clad and languid, purrs into the microphone. “We’ve been together for twenty years.” Then: “We’re getting a divorce.”
This gets a laugh from the audience – another one. But, during Sirens, the second piece and the highlight of the evening, the quality of the laughter has been pitched between amused, delighted, and nervous. It has depended on our responses to Ishimwa’s gloriously confident and uncompromising seduction – and this was definitely a seduction. In loping, roiling movements that fell somewhere between big cat and disco diva, in whispered asides and poetic explication, Ishimwa ventriloquized a cacophony of desires. Fear, represented by a lucha libra mask on the floor, was literally crushed underfoot; fear was mocked in Ishimwa’s sing-song speeches. Sirens was a stunning, agile work from a risk-taker who managed to match ambition with conviction.
Not all messages were as successfully conveyed, particularly in Book My Face, a trope-laden, surface-skimming piece about social media and its discontents. Credible, energetic and occasionally compelling performances by Maga Radlowska and Aneta Zwierzynska couldn’t save the sagging and frustratingly unsubtle choreography; the gigantic video projections of Radlowska and Zwierzynska’s faces were an unnecessary distraction. Ultimately, Book My Face felt like the fraught set-up for a far more nuanced and engaged work that hasn’t been made yet.
Thematic overstatement threatened to undermine Here Body, the final piece, but Neus Gil Cortés’ sophisticated management repeatedly saved it. The narrative progression – fear of and reconciliation with the fallible body – was simple and potentially too obvious, but instead these basic elements were polished to a high shine. Similarly, after Cortés’ tense, complex and viscerally expressed dance of fear, Durgesh Srivastava’s conveyance of the ageing, joyful body could have been mawkish but was instead touching – a moment of emotional honesty that closed the night with the quietest warmth.
Each work opened with something other than live movement. Animal Radio and ISH by moi filled the back wall with flickering photography or film, while Neus Gil Cortés held a falling, contracted, yoga pose for as long as her stretched muscles allowed. These beginnings suggested an intention to challenge the audience through a mixed approach to creating dance theatre with a message.
Animal Radio’s engaging partnership of Maga Radiowska and Aneta Zwierzynska presented concerns about the manipulation of identity through social media. Their movement was roughly-hewn, periodically infused with the flavour of capoeira; and live music composed and performed onstage by Alex Judd was uplifting; but, the ever-present giant flip-book of their facial expressions became overwhelming and the spoken text added little.
Ishimwa is a rare and precious talent. A courageous performer prepared to play a high risk strategy. Inventive, daring and precocious. Sirens opened with a close-up film of him slurping milk from a glass bowl and then slowly dribbling it back. It made no sense either then or subsequently. And the live element of his performance comprised three ostensibly unrelated sections of equal ambiguity.
Ishimwa confidently delivers spoken text with impactful timing and as the sequences unravelled it became clear that the narrative intention was his personal struggle with fear, described by him as a divorce (with fear now dating ego)! Sirens ran longer than the estimated 16 minutes but remained absorbing throughout. This guy thinks so far out of the box that I see something special in the making.
The most fluid and expressive dance of the evening came in Here Body, a long, arresting solo by Cortés that also focused on fear, essaying issues of aging, mortality and loss. The work’s overarching sentimentality was hammered home by the late introduction of an elderly dancer in a sari, performing gentle bharatanatyam actions as the lights dimmed. It was a comforting end to a somewhat surreal evening.