In just the past week in Greenwich I have seen works by Robert Clark, Uchenna Dance and Tara D’Arquian, each of which explored different aspects of human connection – and each of which was magical.
Clark’s MASS, commissioned by the Greenwich Dance & TrinityLaban Partnership, couldn’t have been more relevant, turning the spotlight on to the opposing themes of empathy and alienation in our post-truth world of Trump and Brexit and raising difficult questions about our personal responses to immigration and insularity. Audience and cast mingled on the twilit floor of Woolwich Arsenal’s cavernous Building 17, all of us wearing diaphanous hoods and shapeless smocks that removed the distinction not only between dancer and observer but also between genders. At first I felt unsettled and apart. But as the evening unfurled into a gentle series of feather-soft encounters with the performers I found myself moved almost to tears by the sense of social immersion and inclusivity Clark’s ground-breaking work created. It was, to say the least, uplifting.
Uchenna’s The Head Wrap Diaries at the Albany was set in a south London hair salon and concentrated on questions of identity and gender. Multi-talented performers Shanelle Clemenson, Sheila Attah and Emmanuella Idris mixed dance, spoken word, mime and laugh-out-loud comedy to give us a coming-of-age story, choreographed by Vicki Igbokwe, which used vast swathes of dazzling, polychrome African fabrics to create a stunning world full of childhood agony and joy, archetypal family relationships and, most importantly, female empowerment. It was spellbinding – and inspired a rapturous ovation.
The programme for D’Arquian’s Bad Faith began with a scene-setting quote from the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.” Sartre was influenced by Nietzsche and D’Arquian based her latest piece on the German thinker’s notion that any attempt to define the self is absurd because of its multiplicity. What followed at Laban theatre was a mesmerising collage of words, music and movement as D’Arquian, Laura Doehler and Hannah Ringham held centre-stage as nine women sitting among the audience called out or chanted aphorisms and affirmations to a soundtrack that ranged from Mahler to contemporary electronica by way of The Supremes. It trod a fine line between profundity and pretension. But that sense of danger gave it a fascinating edge and helped to make the show a deserved triumph.