Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 13th March, 2019
Avant Garde Dance Company’s take on the Dickens classic offers a few surprises among an impressive display of contemporary dance, informed by an urban aesthetic. It certainly is a sight to see: the precision, the skill, the energy, but I have a problem with the first act. Apart from an introduction from the Artful Dodger (Aaron Nuttall) there is little in the way of exposition. The scenes that link the dance sequences are therefore not as clear as they could be, and so while I appreciate the mechanised, repetitive dehumanised routines in the workhouse, I’m not entirely sure who the characters are who plot their escape.
At the top of the second act, Dodger gives us a recap and mentions the others by name at last. It seems a clumsy way to do things, rather than simply amending the dialogue in the earlier scenes, but at least it leads to better storytelling. There is some clever rhyming and word play in Maxwell Golding’s writing thought, and some cheeky references to song titles from the Lionel Bart musical.
Arran Green’s Fagin is tall and slender, towering over the action in his big coat and top hat. Green moves with elegance and humour – spoken scenes are also accompanied by choreographed moves and gestures – and there is a lovely, sinuous quality here.
There is a striking duo (or pas de deux, I suppose) between Bill (Stefano A Addae) and Nancy (Ellis Saul) and a surprising twist (as in plot rather than Chubby Checker) from Sia Gbamoi as Oliver.
Yann Seabra’s costumes reference the story’s Victorian origins, while the score (by various) is relentlessly of the now. Seabra’s set, before it becomes other things, starts off as a big fence. Which is what Fagin is, if you think about it! Jackie Shemish’s lighting is as taut and evocative as the performances; it’s as though the lighting is another dancer!
Tony Adigun’s choreography is expressive, mixing fluidity of forms with sharper, jerkier, inorganic moves but I think as much attention needs to be given to characterisation in the spoken scenes as is devoted to the dance sequences. Rather than being a moving story, I find myself marvelling at the performance of this amazing ensemble rather than engaging with what the characters experience.