East London Dance / Tony Adigun – IDENTITY – London

Avant Garde Dance Company in <I>Alpha</I>.<br />© Camilla Greenwell. (Click image for larger version)
Avant Garde Dance Company in Alpha.
© Camilla Greenwell. (Click image for larger version)

East London Dance / Tony Adigun

Houston Dance Collective: The Purple Jigsaw
Avant Garde Dance Company: Alpha
House of Absolute: I Am The Footsteps of Many
Rugged Estate: Occupation: RUGGED
London, Shoreditch Town Hall
Tony Adigun @

Presented in the cool and stylish venue of Shoreditch Town Hall, Identity is a celebration of east London’s diverse creativity. A dazzling clash of fashion, dance and music, the work showcases early career artists who use their skill and lived experiences to expose identity from multiple perspectives. Four companies each with something different to say through their movement and costumes designed by Sabrina Henry and Lee Yaroshevski are directed by Tony Adigun, founder of Avant Garde Dance Company in this dazzling event.

There’s a vibey atmosphere as we wait in the foyer thanks to DJ Selassie TBC, who plays a mixture of Soul, R&B and Hip Hop. Inside the stately Assembly Hall, DJ Profits is playing grittier tracks, more Grime infused, from the lofty heights of the balcony. The stage is extended to include two catwalks and a second stage in the middle of the hall. Most of the audience are seated around this protracted stage but there’s a group of people standing in the middle where it forms an enclosed pit. It’s not clear whether they are performers or standing spectators (they are in-fact the latter) but our gaze falls on them expectantly. A technical error means a delay in starting the show but we’re kept involved by the energising music and Identity’s promo film styled by the exceptionally imaginative  Dr Manrutt Wongkaew. It features a movement fragment of two dancers in vibrant, intricately patterned clothing which suggest a real marriage of cultural influences that is integral to the show.

Houston Dance Collective in The Purple Jigsaw.© Camilla Greenwell. (Click image for larger version)
Houston Dance Collective in The Purple Jigsaw.
© Camilla Greenwell. (Click image for larger version)

B-girl Emma Houston is first up with her company Houston Dance Collective in a brilliantly executed piece which incorporates voguing with break-dancing and waacking while crashing through normative gender roles. Houston impresses with her compact strength, use of flow and expertise, as she re-claims an important hip-hop space that is all too often reserved for B-boys.  Houston along with Olivia Rufer prove in The Purple Jigsaw that girls can hold their own in the endurance tests demanded by breaking. As both young women get down to business, spinning, kicking, slamming, locking and popping, Duane Nasis and Raymond Wade portray different, more static shapeshifting with elegant, sculpted postures and intricate angular arm movements of voguing and waacking. Raymond Wade’s hyper-mobile arms are extraordinary to watch as they rotate, fold, and slice around his head as is Nasis’s spectacular one arm display (the other lies bandaged across his chest)! Sometimes the four huddle together enacting constrained, irritated gestures before breaking out into their unique styles. While Houston may look macho in her outfit of oversized shorts and shirt or Wade effeminate in his pastel colours, fixed gendered readings are negated in the company’s fluid interplay of gender roles.

Adigun’s Alpha shows off inventive white padded costumes by Sabrina Henry and Lee Yaroshevski, both cutting edge designers who work across theatre, dance, film and commercials. A mix of European/African/Asian styled dresses and kurtas, shroud the dancers like tailored duvets.  Alpha suggests the birth and development of some superior race in which a ranting high priest, Muti Musafiri, controls a group of women with fast, manic gestures. This strange, whitened society of women who resemble high priestesses strive to break free from their grazed male leader. Adigun’s specialism of blending contemporary dance with hip-hop is accompanied by emotive music and a luscious abstract video of exploding colours while the incorporation of baroque music is refreshingly juxtaposed with truncated, punchy actions. While the women display feisty attitudes and a powerful sanity through their faces or physicality which Musafiri lacks, the controlling force in Alpha is still unfortunately male.

Stunning and transfixing to watch in their embodiment of unique and multiple ‘otherness’ and ‘difference’, Ffion Campbell-Davies and Julia Cheng (of House of Absolute) glide down the run-ways like two goddesses from a Star Wars’ galaxy. Dressed in layers of Asian silk- kimonos, trousers, coats, African head wraps and western hats the women demurely hold onto parasols draped with vividly coloured silk. As they parachute sedately across the stage, turning and pausing, crouching or leaning, their presences embrace many subject positions and cultural histories. While the choreography is Zen-like and contained, it includes interesting shifts and juddering collapses as they settle into poses. Mixed into the music is a poetic woman’s voice whispering about other continents, histories of repression, slavery and experiences of dispossessed peoples. I Am The Footsteps of Many is a celebration of beauty and fashion that is rarely seen in the mainstream and casts a transformational spotlight on the underrepresented.

Rugged Estate in <I>Occupation: RUGGED</I>.<br />© Camilla Greenwell. (Click image for larger version)
Rugged Estate in Occupation: RUGGED.
© Camilla Greenwell. (Click image for larger version)

While Identity is about inclusivity and an active dismissal of labelling, it’s a bit disappointing to witness gender stereotyping in Rugged Estate’s Occupation: RUGGED – an exposition of Krumping. Chic, black urban street wear worn with attitude by five male dancers as they communicate the raw essence of krumping style – tension released quickly and violently through muscles and limbs in waves of shuddering motion. While these young men are masters of their act and mesmerizing to watch as they display contorted, twisted bodies, grimacing facial muscles and their inner struggle with control, they are also truly menacing like self-constructing robots in a violent computer game. As the finishing act, Occupation leaves us on the one hand feeling encouraged that so much aggression can be channelled into dance; but on the other that krumping’s allure should be its relentless machismo and anger.

Overall, inspite of some technical glitches and awkward transitions, Identity reflects East London Dance’s vision of and commitment to producing fresh, dynamic, cross-cultural themed work that resonates with London’s vital eclecticism. I hope we see more.

About the author

Josephine Leask

Josephine Leask is a dance writer and lecturer. Having written for a range of dance and art publications, she currently writes for Londondance and the Dance Insider. She lectures in cultural studies at London Studio Centre. Follow her on Twitter @jo_leask

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