Renee Stewart poised in meditative reflection, holds an invisible thing between her hands. Focussed on this pulsing, amorphous form she carefully explores its contours. Following it with her gaze and body she expands, her slow pace morphing into something sharper and pacier. In The Journey, Stewart, Jevan Howard-Jones and Anders Hayward explore the intersections between presence, stillness and interiority from which place true expression and dynamism can be found; the foundations of somatic practice. Stewart is a convincing performer and communicates an exciting range of movement from her grounded subjectivity, and no less impressive is her last minute adaption of the work from duet to solo due to an emergency.
Another journey of discovery is undertaken by two competent women Veronika Coufalova and Lauren Waller. They search for resilience to negotiate life’s trials through colourful patchwork material which enwraps them, joins them then finally separates them. Not understanding the intended metaphor of wildflowers, I do however appreciate how the multi-coloured fabric provides them with incentives to move and be. They dance with its restrictions in contained solos of detailed, intricate gestures and steps. Once unwrapped and free of their bonds they hurl themselves across the space with playful glee, clearer about their discovery than I am. Although bumpy in parts and strangely at odds with its title, Wildflowers is an engaging and well-crafted work.
A dramatic opening to Nebuchadnezzar (befitting of the powerful Babylonian King c.605 BC) displays Kennedy Muntanga being strangled while a menacing line of bodies, barely visible through the smokey gloom looks on. What is magnificent about the work is the force of the twelve dancers and the interplay between fragments of plaintive text by writer Ndumiso Peter Ndlovu and athletic, punctuated choreography by Muntanga and Emily Izen Row. Muntanga’s central positioning as a man nearing his demise, lost and searching for love is potent even if he does eclipse the others. This is an ambitious piece which doesn’t always live up to its potential but there are thrilling moments particularly when the company dance flat out in unison, a mass of people drowning out the solitary figure of Muntanga.
The Journey was created as a duet but performed as a solo. Renee Stewart moves with focus, purpose and confidence under imaginably nerve-wracking circumstances. I was intrigued by the traces of her missing partner, resonating in the work. This may have emphasized something of the journey inward. Some things we see and others we don’t; alone, yet not quite. Stewart navigates a fraught, difficult journey with strength and composure.
Wildflowers is a crowded piece for two performers. Both show a high level of skill but little deviation from extended surges of movement obscures any metaphors of courage and resilience. Dressed in black, their torsos wrapped in a swathe of patchwork fabric - secured with Velcro - the costume is fussy and awkward. I struggled to connect the choreography with the costume, erratic lighting and sound. The intentions behind perceptible shifts in focus were ambiguous. Except for a short moment of stillness, laying side by side under a single spotlight, little room was made for contemplation.
Kennedy Muntanga Dance Theatre's NEBUCHADNEZZAR is an admirable portrayal of the gak and guts of love. Intricate, unruly choreography, apt sound, well devised dramaturgy and artful lighting design, sets a cohesive mood and psychological landscape (evocative of a 28 Days Later-style apocalypse) exploring the carnal edges of love. Untethering, unravelling and falling apart, bodies splay and congeal against each other in seductive rhythms. A diverse ensemble of twelve executes a physical language reminiscent of choreographers Shechter and Pite. The female cast demonstrate astounding physical prowess, sustaining oblique stillnesses maturing into elegant ensemble tableaux. Convulsions then develop into frenetic sputters amidst repetitive trance states, dissolving these arresting images and gathering the ensemble into the next riposte at a comfortable pace. However: Co-Composer’s, please take note of context and refrain from killing young black men on stage (twice?!). And perhaps venture beyond heteronormative depictions of love.