Jamaican dancehall and traditional Georgian vocal polyphony are not two things you expect to see in the same sentence, let alone on the same stage. But for DFS (nothing to do with sofas) the dancer-choreographers Cecilia Bengolea and François Chaignaud, from Argentina and France respectively, combined their current passions to see what could come out of such an unusual culture clash.
Bengolea and Chaignaud, with the dancers Shihya Peng, Valeria Lanzara and Erika Miyauchi started off largely enveloped in gloom, moving slowly through the half-light and providing their own accompaniment of polyphonic chanting. There was a lot of pointe-work and modern balletic framing, but also the hint of dancehall moves, made delicate in this rarefied atmosphere.
Then the dancehall tracks started over the sound system, low at first, but building slowly (and with a dash of pneumatic Miami hip-hop thrown in). The women dancers took to the floor, which occasionally glowed volcanic red, and ran through some arm-flailing dancehall routines made rather antiseptic by a lack of much discernible hip action. It was not clear what this was trying to achieve.
It’s no exaggeration to say the evening was saved by Damion BG Dancerz and Craig Black Eagle, two dancehall dancers from Jamaica, who were mesmerically good. Moving among the ballerinas, in solo showcases or in tag-team style duets, they highlighted, played with and moved nonchalantly within the fiendishly complex rhythms of dancehall; charismatic, loose-limbed, but with a tensile strength that they unleashed on flashily fast footwork, hip-hop style uprocking and acrobatics.
They made the others look like diligent pupils still stuck at the stage where everything was effortful – it was nigh impossible to take your eyes off them. And such was the force of their personalities that when, part-way through the show, Damion invited anyone in the stalls who’d like to join them to come up on stage, dozens did and enthusiastically took part in his “how-to” class.
In all the excitement, the Georgian singing seemed to have been forgotten. But no; the music faded, the performers started chanting – and a loud, plaintive “oh no” erupted from somewhere in the audience (harsh on the performers, but you could sympathise). This time, the dancers were going for a more extreme combination; maintaining a pure polyphonic soundscape while working through a more explicitly sexualised set of dancehall movements. This provided the all-too-rare opportunity to see a flawless set of fouettes performed to the gunshot rhythm of an electro dancehall track. But slo-mo twerking just produced audience giggles and offered no real insight. Bewildering.