Words by Francesca Matthys.
Bodies in Action advocates for the involvement of all, especially marginalised identities in contemporary dance. This is done through the curation of their various events such as Action Lab that creates space for artists to share their works in process in a safe and kind environment.
As we wait in calm anticipation in the performance venue WappArt, the audience sit on chairs and splay themselves across the grassy carpet in this intimately arranged space. The backdrop is large colourfully painted canvases. A space for all, as Artistic Director of Bodies in Action Julian Nichols, warmly welcomes us.
The evening opens with Forward to Nowhere, a duet by TwoFold Dance Theatre, a new collective made up of Jan Wood and Laurie Case. The two embody a rollercoaster of emotions such as anxiety, confusion and uncertainty, making use of oppositions in their bodies both individually and collectively. An active attempt at finding meaning.
They move through poignant movements resembling prayer or surrendering. To be absolved from their humanity or to be enlightened by a deeper experience. Rather Beckettesque. I immediately contemplate on the Kundalini Yoga Sutra ‘The other person is you’ as Jan and Laurie mirror each other and display tender moments of support and understanding. The pair share beautiful moments of weaving in and out of each other, fluidly exploring the negative space that separates their bodies. That separates us as human beings.
Jordan Boyle is dressed in what looks like layers of striped pyjamas. The beat begins to blare as their eyes grow wide and focused. Boyle’s improvisation possesses a hip hop like quality as they dance with no inhibitions. As if being alone in their bedroom. Their movement is vast and agile that excites the audience with its charisma. The bouncy nature of the movements reveals remnants of house as Boyle grooves across the space. Their presence is fascinating and hyper aware as their eyes scan the space for curiosities or even threats. It is very easy to be completely captivated by Boyle’s movement, especially through improvisation where the final destination is often a mystery.
The Problem, the headline performance of the evening catches us off guard as a radio news report and other discussions around prejudice begins to fill the space with context. The controversial voice of broadcaster Piers Morgan can be heard. We are in the real world with real problems that infiltrate into our complacent viewing experience. ‘On Air’ says a sign that hovers above an inflatable mattress.
We are on edge. We are floating above water. We must survive.
Performer Moses Ward enters the space dressed in layers, shades of black and brown. Ward’s two hooded jackets allude to the negative stereotypes and fear placed upon black male bodies today, merely living their lives. This is contrasted though by the sensitivity of speech as he declares ‘I still love you’ and proceeds to ask for consent to touch his fictitious other who resides on the inflatable mattress. His continuous repetition of ‘May I?’ Can also be seen as a plea for rest and a plea to exist in his body in safety and freedom.
Ward proceeds to dreamily engage in embodied conversation with the mattress. Glorious liquid repetition. As Ward finally rests in stillness, the literal air beneath him is stolen as an eerie Piers Morgan representation deflates the mattress. What does it mean to live in a society where the support beneath you is abruptly taken away? This is a motif throughout the work, as Ward must continuously reignite his support. It is a very real moment in very real time that allows for a sense of breath and self reflection for onlookers. One may say that the mattress is a representation of his human experience, of his mortality that he must fight and care for.
Ward begins to dance uneasily, driven by his hips, driven by fear, by force? Subject to someone else’s desires. These moments of unexpected shift in rhythm that break from the domesticity of life, dialogue and ruminative motion are potent and intriguing. Ward is a beautiful mover, who’s physical storytelling is imbued with delightful tone and expansion. His relationship to the object is carefully curated, parallel with a vast use of the object.
As he prepares to leave the space, armour intact again, we are reminded of just how much we each carry in our human vessels. How though our inner landscapes are so complex, we have no choice but to face the world and do it all again. Perhaps a contemplation on care, on resilience, on awareness of self and other.
The Problem choreographed by Julian Nichols in collaboration with performer Moses Ward, improvisation performed by Jordan Boyle in collaboration and with guidance from Julian Nichols. Forward to Nowhere choreographed and performed by Jan Wood and Laurie Case. Both were performed on the 21st & 22nd July 2023 at WappArt in London.