Instead of asking where someone is from, isn’t it more interesting to ask them to tell us their story?
Keira Martin’s sensitively curated Where Ye From is a lesson in how contemporary dance theatre removes the boundaries between people and cultures for the sake of one humanity. This world premiere – Sadler’s Wells’ Wild Card at the Lilian Bayliss Theatre – invites its audience to participate in an evening of sharing stories in a way to stimulate cross-cultural dialogues.
The evening was like an unwinding river. First we listened to Irish/African/Caribbean fusion music, and then we moved to theatre practitioner Anthony Ekundayo Lennon’s oral ruminations on the impact his mixed ancestry has had on his personal identity. Lennon draws on tales of forgotten sweets – flying saucers and cola cubes – as a sensual way for the audience to taste and reflect on the stories they will hear from dance artists Akeim Toussaint Buck and Keira Martin.
Entering onstage bare-chested, Akeim Toussaint Buck lies bare his life experiences and the personal narratives of those who came before him. In Windows of Displacement, we begin in Jamaica where people, Toussaint Buck chants, “come for de rum, come for de sun.” In his song, he isn’t afraid to address stereotypes and mock the colonial rhetoric that was and perhaps still is used to categorise and define life on the island.
Call-and-response is heavily present; designed to encourage audience collaboration and participation. We responded “gyal and byoi” to Toussaint Buck’s recurring lyric, sharing the performance space with him.
His movement is an extension of his words, giving body to his language. His sweeps, extensions and undulations fuse contemporary dance, Caribbean and urban together, in a celebration of mixed identities’ multi-faceted origins.
We then shift to the UK where, after living between Leeds and London, Toussaint Buck has to complete a language test for his right to (R)emain in the UK. Past and present, it seems nothing has changed. The imperialism which oppressed his predecessors still exists, but in the sad guise of this passive, pseudo-democracy we all live in.
Keira Martin’s Here Comes Trouble continues in the same strain. Her performance navigates the highs and lows of her mixed heritage: Barnsley, Ireland and Jamaica.
Each layer delves deeper and deeper in this refreshingly raw and authentic autobiographical work. We join in her reminiscing of Irish dance school competitions, her number 13 an ironic play on Irish luck. We see her remove her blonde weave to unpick her hair with an afro comb. We witness her torment and pain as she screams and writhes in a wooden box, a figurative play on how society boxes her into a category she doesn’t identify with.
Her movement is inescapably affective and completely idiosyncratic. It is the type of choreography that defies sense and understanding, as it is a true embodiment of both the happy and harrowing episodes in her life that we can see but cannot possibly attempt to comprehend.
This was not an evening where you sit back and watch events unfold. The artists placed their trust in the audience, creating a partnership between the two in which personal narratives were shared.
It was empowering to be an active audience. When it comes to sharing stories that celebrate cross-cultural influences, dance such as this has no better function. These are the stories that people must hear; this is the art people must experience if we are going to live in the compassionate world most of us desire to live in.
Image Pari Naderi