As one may have supposed from the title, a sense of belonging pervaded this evening of song, dance and spoken text, curated by Keira Martin for the Wild Card series in – and around – the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells.
It was one of those evenings without an obvious beginning or end since a lively ceilidh was in progress in the Fox Garden Court Café, long before the advertised start time, and a panel discussion, much more staged than the usual post-show Q&A, led by Louise Katerga in a process of giving answers to questions not yet asked, was followed by more Irish folk music that ran on well into the late evening hours.
Enveloped by this excellent music were three varied solos, each in very different ways confronting matters of identity. Anthony Ekundayo Lennon brought Sweet Memories to those of a certain age, opening his act by asking permission from the “Eldership” to continue, selecting the person who seemed to be the oldest in the audience (by some miracle, he didn’t choose me). Next, he offered libation to the spirits, pouring water from one bowl to another while incanting tributes to the dead (including, rather poignantly – given the stories that were to follow – his younger brother, Vincent). This spiritual formality quickly morphed into something altogether more social when Lennon asked if we remembered such sugary childhood treats as flying saucers, cola cubes and Cresta (well remembered for the polar bear in sunglasses proclaiming, “It’s frothy, man”). It’s a wonder any of us made it to 30, still in possession of our own teeth!
Lennon’s monologue continued – with the aid of a book and reading glasses – into stories and reminiscences, including asking the audience if we remembered the word “scarper”, which in turn led to a self-inquiry about his own identity, with white parents and grandparents, from Ireland, and yet West African genes in his DNA. It was a story, abruptly ended with the promise of a further explanation, never revealed (although Lennon’s intriguing back story – being accused of appropriating his own identity – can readily be researched with a quick click on Google). Lennon’s casual performance, like a perambulating presentation without a PowerPoint, was absorbing.
Next onto the stage came Akeim Toussaint Buck, a resident of Leeds by way of Jamaican birth, who provided another auto-biographical half-hour, as Windows of Displacement mixed excellent and varied dance moves with more spoken text, both live and recorded (a child’s voice), A Cappella song (all three soloists sang sweetly) and audience participation. There was a strong socio-political message about his own tortured journey to becoming British (after living in the UK for years) and wider issues regarding the future of humanity; but, Buck kept an endearing performance the right side of becoming a polemic, without diluting his essential manifesto. He finished on an upbeat with a concluding routine to Burning Spear’s ’s roots reggae classic, Jordan River, which sent everyone out into the interval with a spring in their step.
The last of the trio of performances came from Martin herself, in Here Comes Trouble. Dragging a wooden chest onto the stage, which appeared to contain all her memories (including a gaudy trophy for coming eleventh in the World Irish Dancing Championships – “Manchester, 1989”), she wore a blonde, curly wig and an elaborate, colourful Irish Dancing dress, giving the impression of an aging starlet with a cheeky, stage school grin. To prove the point, Martin danced a few Irish dance solos, tapping energetically on top of the chest and then performing traditional stepdance complete with leg lifts and hooks. The wig and the dress eventually came off and the performance took a more sinister turn with a knife as a prop and Martin being imprisoned inside the chest, her poignant, pleading screaming and kicking providing for an uncomfortable and challenging few minutes. She returned to the top of the chest, performing without lifting her feet, a sort of pulsing energy running through her body, moving to what seemed to be a sound distortion of the earlier Irish jig. From time-to-time, Martin came to the microphone and said or whispered the same words about a sense of place and beauty but variously related to Barnsley, Yorkshire, Ireland and Jamaica. It was an honest, powerful performance, which covered a wide spectrum of emotions.
This Wild Card series of occasional events throws up interesting and thought-provoking performances such as these, which are well away from the usual beaten track of dance theatre and are generally well worth catching.