Yewande 103’s meditative Many Lifetimes

Words by Pagan Hunt. Performed at Dance City.

Yewande 103’s Many Lifetimes felt to me like just that; a series of unfolding histories. Set to the incredible live music of Bianca Wilson and Femi Oriogun-Williams beneath a glowing canopy, Alexandrina Yewande Hemsley’s new work offers space to reflect on life, loss, and healing. It left in me a sense of primal healing that I’ve only ever felt before around an open fire.

Live music always elevates live dance, but in this case the music was really the heart and soul of the show. The deep resonance, playful rhythms, soaring vocals and seemingly endless supply of instruments from guitar to banjo to accordion were not only delicious to listen to, but also perfectly held the mood and meaning of the work, sending it vibrating and radiating out to the circle of audience members.

The linen canopy suspended above a mirrored stage is worn and holey; the result of spending two weeks buried and eaten at by worms, before being unearthed. Mended with scruffy trails of red thread, bunched and suspended, it scatters the glow of the overhead spotlight like the sun through a cloud. Beneath this, each of the seven sequential solos offered a glimpse into the individual dancers’ essence, their movements seeming to come from deep within them, fully embodied, unique yet universal.

Image by: Katarzyna Perlak.

The whole piece is calm, slow paced, almost meditative. But my attention is held unwaveringly in the deftly sweeping, intricate gestures and intense focus of each dancer. One solo morphs seamlessly into another, and while the dancers don’t interact at first, they all seem to be connected as part of one greater whole. Absorbing each revolving, swirling dance, my mind lands on lifecycles, organisms, evolution, reincarnation.

There is an intense vulnerability especially from Greta Mendez MBE who, with such a rich lifetime of experience, holds an immense power even in stillness in her furious yet triumphant solo. Alice Tatge emerges hooded, before erupting into violent shaking and thrashing which I feel in my gut. Alexandrina Hemsley’s gentle groove contrasts with pleasure, indulgence and a juicy spine.

The final section of the work unites all seven dancers onstage, in a revolving line, connecting with one another and with their audience through gaze, energy and occasional tender contact. Although I began to sense some shifting in seats towards the end (indicating that perhaps this section continued for too long), this ending offered an echo of everything we had experienced so far; pulsing, growing, expanding, suspending. 

Image by: Katarzyna Perlak.

As a sequence of solos, each transforming smoothly from one to the next, the work felt structurally reminiscent of lifecycles and healing. The cast and audience seated in the round brought a clear feeling of community and equity within the space, encircled by sound and lights. In today’s dance world, this opportunity to really see a diverse group of dancers baring their souls on stage is invaluable and beautiful.

Cast and creatives:

Concept, Creative Direction and Choreography: Alexandrina Yewande Hemsley

Dance Movement Collaborators: Pierre Babbage, Alexandrina Yewande Hemsley,  Rickae Hewitt-Martin, Greta Mendez, Rudzani Moleya, B. Solomon, Alice Tatge

Production: Metal & Water, Nancy May Roberts, Elsabet Yonas 

Sound Design & Composition: Bianca Wilson, Femi Oriogun-Williams, Ray Aggs

Set Co-Design: Ruta Irbite, Alexandrina Yewande Hemsley

Set Fabrication and installation: Ruta Irbite

Costume Design: Abiola Onabule

Costume Collages: Alexandrina Yewande Hemsley

Text: Alexandrina Yewande Hemsley 

Rehearsal Direction: Angel Dust 

Production Management: Michael Morgan 

Accessibility Coordinator: Sensoria, Saskia Horton

Audio Description – SoundScribe, Shivaangee Agrawal and Elaine Joseph