Souls and Cells by Akeim Toussaint Buck and Crystal Zillwood

What speaks back to you when you call out?

Souls and Cells by Akeim Toussaint Buck and Crystal Zillwood embodies this and invites us to witness an embodied ritual. Ritual is indeed present in the work as it begins with the pair existing in open attentiveness, nurturing their shrine created on stage. A shrine that is adorned with autumnal flowers, salt, lentils, a lion statue; a representative of peace for Zillwood, and a growing collection of handwritten notes from the audience.

“We brought in visual objects that felt true to us to help us ground our experiences of the process. Over time we were building a shrine that evoked our ancestry and also our research.”

We, the viewers, are welcomed with the expectation to place our messages of hope, positivity and abundance for our families and communities, in the shrine. A vulnerable action, that at the beginning of this exchange, we trust Buck and Zillwood will keep safe within the sounds of the colliding sea. 

The pair begin to move their attentiveness to primal rolling and walking that carry my thoughts to the inception of humans. Sensing into earth, a new territory to understand. The lights echo this as they fade in and out as if we are in a liminal and hazy dreamscape. It is here that I notice the gleaming details on their costumes almost like sand shimmering on a beach. Water. Have they been washed up upon this seashore? I ponder as the pair now begin to expand from the shore into tall trees sensing into the air. Their limbs are extremely activated towards extremities, as their toes stretch as if dipping them in icy sea water. These bodies are available to the possibility of sound as Buck’s practice of Beat Motion is explored through the rigorous use of voice to accompany and be in conversation with movement. 

Though the score is extremely intricate and captivating as Buck and Zillwood’s recorded voices become a sonic amalgamation, the introduction of live voice makes me yearn for more use of live voices throughout the performance. 

Buck and Zillwood spiral and process, taking each other’s places like in a relay race of communicating with their ancestors. An interesting metaphor if we consider what it means to hold these two lineages, English and Caribbean in one moment in time. 

There are visions of fleeting unison that I wonder whether are completely essential, however the pair’s exploration of gestural sequences that resemble drawing in sand and tracing new realities of how we may connect to our ancestors are poignant in their sensitivity. 

The work begins to directly call on the ancestors of the performer’s as both Buck and Zillwood share stories of grandmothers who looked out and cared for them from humble homes. The image of Buck’s grandmother sweeping with her back bent over, hands kissing the floor is a beautiful expression that will remain with me. A reminder of the power of the matriarch and how my Ouma too gently took heed. 

It is perhaps common thought that the earth is associated with our ancestors however, Souls and Cells alludes to many of the elements of matter as if they all hold connections to ancestry. Buck and Zillwood grasp at these invisibilities and interestingly never distinctly touch each other but only engage in each other’s energetic spaces. This is a peculiar choice as the work deals a lot with connection and being closely tied to something. Perhaps a commentary again on the potential conflicting heritages present in the space and in dialogue with one another…

The final section of the work is most enjoyable as it reveals the more subtitles of the performance. The movement vocabulary is a combination of drawing inwards towards the body and organic groove that is joyous and contagious. As the performers sit in stillness acknowledging the weight that calling on one’s ancestors may hold, it is a reminder that these connections are one’s own and your choice to show to the world or not. Their very intentional movements with their hands also signify that what we create with our hands is what we will manifest in the world. 

The final image of the work mirrors the opening as the performers once again stand tall as trees, in conversation about how deep their roots go. As the energy simmers down I wonder back to the notes we had written in the beginning of the performance and how perhaps this dance is an offering for our wishes to be realised. 

As a whole, Souls and Cells holds intricate moments of tenderness that anchor the work and can extend itself even further if these are magnified.

The work was performed at The Place on the 26th of September 2023.