Questions of identity hung uppermost amongst many thoughts left simmering in the cooking pot of my mind, following these three works. Ordinarily, the prospect of a duet sandwiched between two solos would most likely have foreshadowed an elastic evening of dance, seemingly stretching on for far too long; but each of these performances left me wanting more. Both solos were complex works, reliant on substantial spoken text, punctuated by aggressive physical theatre.
Azara Meghie used rap and breakdance (to the live accompaniment of two Rastafarian drummers) as a means of exploring her heritage (from Jamaica to South London) and self as an LGBTQI [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Intersex] woman. Her text was razor-edged and basic bboy sixsteps and freezes were interspersed with power moves as the dance sequences progressed. Meghie is an ebullient and engaging artist with – I suspect – a great deal more to say.
Taha Ghauri has been touring The Devil’s Workshop, since 2011. It’s a courageous indictment of hypocrisy, seen through the lens of a young man, growing up in a traditional (British) Muslim family. As much stand-up comedy as it is aggressive physical movement, performed in rapid bursts; Ghauri flavours the work with humorous twists and uncomfortable moments, which are only allowed to hang in the air briefly before he moves on. Mid-way, he forgets his lines and needs a prompt, before immediately picking up the flow; but was his momentary discomfort real or part of the act?
Caught between such powerful surges, Ondine was in danger of drowning. But, Laura Calcagno and Camilla Isola presented an antidote to these explosive solos in their tranquil, tender, cleverly-structured duet that took a deep dive into the intense connectivity of a mutual dependency. Both the title and Isola’s digital imagery of shimmering green and blue waves provided a contemplative feel of water nymphs at rest and play.
Just Another Day begins with percussion seeping through the darkness as you strain your eyes to see off-white costumes glowing faintly as if almost under a blacklight. The lights come up and Azara Meghie begins spinning her yarn of identity through poetry and breakdance accompanied by High Opinion Drums’ live rhythms. The themes of ethnicity and gender are nothing new but Meghie’s earnest charisma makes the piece decidedly likeable. The red lighting used provides a welcome contrast which offsets the warm bubble of her robust breakdancing. Against the red glow she describes a looming figure with folded arms and menace who is embodied by her own enlarged shadow.
Laura Calcagno and Camilla Isola follow with intimate duet Ondine. The relationship between the two is so real and well-crafted that the audience feel they are intruding. The dancers’ intimacy grows throughout and after they shed their shirts they take on a merfolk-like quality. The lighting is low, and in tight flesh tones the two appear lithe and otherworldly - particularly during the close unison floor work. This is enhanced by haze, a film of waves and a sea soundscape which help to blur the lines of reality. The only let down is the lumpy transitions between sections which break the ethereal spell the rest of the work has striven so hard to create.
Though the themes of The Devil’s Workshop are mature, the crude and childish manner in which it’s presented is not. Taha Ghauri’s gripes on sex, religion and people’s hypocrisy morph into contemporary dance with a witty narrative. The jokes are funny but the text suffers in comparison to Meghie’s earlier amiable honesty. Ghauri’s strength is his movement - he bursts forth from behind his words with aggressive athleticism that fills the space. Where the comedy becomes predictable the dynamic jumps and tumbles keep the work functioning to the end.