Emilia Robinson and Sidonie Carey-Green Becoming-Animal – Review

Words by Ines Carvalho.

As we press play on the video performance, a melancholic landscape of woodland emerges on the screen, contrasting with the figure of a body wearing a black suit in the middle of the scene. They continuously touch their face – fingers explore the edges of the jaw, cheeks, lips, nose and eyes, creating new shapes of a human visage. This guides us to the imagery world of Francis Bacon’s Head painting series; and it becomes clear that Bacon’s works – ‘Head’ (1947), ‘Figure in a Landscape’ (1960) and ‘Self-Portrait as a Businessman’ (2002) – were core inspirations behind Becoming-Animal; a piece of contrast, touch and senses that highlights a duality between the animalistic roots of a human being and its disconnection from nature.

Created by Emilia Robinson and Sidonie Carey-Green, this performance was part of 2020 Vision, an initiative created by South East Dance to introduce (virtually) their 20 artists that will be part of its opening programme at the Dance Space in 2021. To help the audience discover more about them, each one of the artists was asked to select a screen dance short created by another artist. Becoming-Animal was chosen by dance artist, activist, writer and model Valerie Ebuwa, who justified her choice by the ability of the film to question power dynamics, not to mention it being a way to raise the profile of black female choreographers and dancers.

The relationship of power assumes the nucleus of the entire performance whilst setting the flux of solos, duets, triplets and group routines. Six performers, wearing exactly the same black suits, come together to maintain the synchrony of their clockwork movements. Once we get caught on this loop, it is interrupted by a close-up of a face that plays with the layers of skin, flesh and bones. Just like in the beginning, we discover new shapes of her expression, until her feverish touch deforms the image of ‘face’. We no longer recognise her as she strokes and fights against the traces of human edges. Instead, she reveals the raw nature of a head, unmakes the face and rediscovers what we all have in common at last: our bodies.

Becoming-Animal transitions from a group routine to focus on individual bodies. This invites us to observe each one and inevitably reflect on our own. We, the audience are not there with the collective of dancers, but we do share the same body – and the fierce beauty of it.

Followed by the beat of the electronic music in the background that oscillates in a wave of dynamics, we shift to another moment that introduces a duet. As the dancers touch each other’s hands – the first way of establishing communication – we feel there is no space for dialogue after all. A body engages with another which directs us to a fight scene: Is it a fight for their own individuality?

A female body crashes against a masculine body in a powerful sequence of gender identity, power demands and relationships. It is precisely during this duet that we question why there can be so many collisions when we are all human.

Becoming-Animal is a 12-minute call to action that frames where we are now and where we should go as a collective. But how can we do that? The music gets frenetic as all the performers appear, but this time around they are not going to share the same routine. Once again, we watch their heads being rediscovered and redesigned while they use their fingers to rub and mould their cheeks, chin and forehead. They are turning their attention to the senses, they are feeling their bodies. They are becoming animals in a perfectly combined way to find a collective voice, by feeling their own anatomy at first.

Inspired by the words of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze on ‘The Body, the Meat and the Spirit: Becoming Animal’, Emilia and Sidonie translated into motion the powerful imagery of Francis Bacon as an ultimatum to all of us: we need to find our bodies in order to connect with each other and the earth beneath our feet.

Header image: Emilia Robinson.

Movement direction and choreography: Emilia Robinson. Film and choreography: Sidonie Carey-Green. Sound design: Josh Evan and Leo Gibbon. Produced: Johanna Taylor. Dancers: Ela Moude, Henry Song, Aspasia Dimou, Viltė Milčiūtė, Tabitha Davenhill, Helen Cheng, Amney Shah, @troudyy, @davidbica99.