Three men sit on chairs. Behind them, three others are incarcerated within cells of light. Yet M(inD) – Inside the Mind, by hip hop dance company Flo, goes on to blur such easy distinctions between guard and prisoner. At first the guards are impassive while the prisoners rattle and shadow-box, to voiceovers about feelings of worthlessness. By the end, through breakouts, combative solos and duets, the men seem almost interchangeable, equally isolated and antagonistic. The krump-derived style, melding outburst with restraint, proves effective for the emotional dynamics, but the choreography feels constrained by familiar solo and battling formats.
A lamp glows like a distant sun. Behind a translucent screen, Monique Jonas, Ihsaan De Banya and Imogen Alvares appear as shadows. They emerge into a warm haze that keeps fading them in and out of focus. It’s a beautifully atmospheric staging for Jonas’s subtly biting Toh-Kuhn, which plays on the ambiguities between being seen as a figure and being recognised as a person, specifically in relation to race and nation. A Windrush calypso (London is the place for me) signals a kind of home for these multiracial dancers (London, The Place), who later speak of being asked the perennial questions where are you from? and do you go back? The choreography plays out as a series of mixed reactions, first between the dancers as they slip over and around each other, as if the questions keep missing their target; then, more emphatically, addressed towards us.
Lewis Major’s Epilogue is about art and beauty. On a powdered floor, Pascal Morty stands in contrapposto like a Renaissance statue, his bare body chalked white. To Debussy’s limpid Clair de lune, he artfully composes himself: stretched leg balancing curved arm, head inclined, powder clouding into luminous haloes. As the music is electronically resampled, something seems to disturb him: he’s floored and splayed and questing, spiralling and skidding on the powder. But this is dissonance, not discord: never not beautiful, always artful. Clair de lune returns and Morty finishes square on, perfectly symmetrical. It’s like starting with Michelangelo and ending with Da Vinci.
First up is FLO’s M(in)D – Inside The Mind, whose six men wrestle with entrapped thoughts and frustration with the surrounding world. Prison inmates and guards, albeit distinguishable by costumes and cell-like lighting, are united by rigorous hip hop locking and stillness set to a base-heavy soundtrack and singularised by their pained faces. Alpha meets alpha; their vulnerable, authentic selves remain suppressed in confrontation. Guards break down and gather in a travelling, antagonistic mass that results in their incarceration, as prisoners break free. The second half feels slightly more liberated. The role reversal inspires fewer hostile chest pumps and defensive glares, yet the change in mood is almost too subtle to match the emancipation suggested by the spoken word, “shackles shall not hold you”.
In Toh-Kuhn, Ihsaan De Banya, Imogen Alvares and Monique Jonas are companions in their emotional fatigue, floored–sometimes literally–by the weight of ‘otherness’ that society imposes upon them. The three bodies segue through orange-hued mist from solo to harmonious duet to effortless unison, yearning to tell the stories of marginalised voices. Torment is engrained. Though Lord Kitchener’s lyrics London is the place for me suggest optimism, the performers embody impatience through pedestrian gestures at the tiresome question noted vocally by De Banya “Yes, but where are you really from?”. The feeling of not belonging lingers in their graceful, unguarded, weight-shifting movement. Poignant and personal.
Returning to the auditorium for Lewis Major’s Epilogue feels like an impromptu visit to a Renaissance sculpture exhibition. There stands Pascal Marty, ethereal, muscular, as motionless as Michelangelo’s David is dynamic. Flour coats floor and performer and as he morphs into elegant shapes it spirals downwards like Debussy’s accompanying Clair de Lune. Classical beauty encounters an unexpected obstacle; divine energy becomes self-conscious and with doubt comes distorted movement and music. There is a new relationship between body and brain; Marty tries on clunky retrograde for size and ploughs through the mesmerising flour circles decorating the floor. As Debussy returns, the lights dim on a mere, yet confident, mortal. An intriguing, inspirational encounter between classicism and modernity.