NOT TODAY’S YESTERDAY
Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 23rd October, 2018
As usual when I’m reviewing a dance show, I’m somewhat out of my depth; I lack the technical knowledge to appreciate fully an edition of Strictly, let alone a contemporary piece. But I decide, that’s not important. The show should work on me without me being able to tell a pirouette from an arabesque.
This is a one-woman piece, combining traditional Eastern moves with modern, Western ones – I can at least tell the difference here – creating a fusion of the two. It begins with our soloist (Seeta Patel) on a box in front of a reflective surface, moving with jerky, quirky grace; this is a prelude to the story. A pre-recorded narrator speaks – sometimes the performer lip-syncs, sometimes she supports/illustrates the spoken words with gestures, abstract and concrete. It’s the story of a land of faraway folk and has the air of a folk tale, and at first, it’s a bit twee. Were it not for the ominous music, I’d tire of it quickly. Having painted a picture of this idyllic, if other-worldly, place, the performer introduces a different land, pushing angular forms around to suggest a landscape? A ship? Accompanied by the music of Strauss. This is the West, sending out explorers to the land of the faraway folk. At first, gifts are exchanged but it soon turns sour. As we know from history.
Then comes the show’s most potent image. The performer pours a curtain of whitewash. It runs and thickens in front of a suffering figure, obliterating the atrocities of the past. There are some disturbing contortions conveying the torment of the oppressed. The more she tries to wipe away the whitewash, the more obscured she becomes from sight, until she is reduced to a shadowy figure, distorted, dehumanised, animalistic even.
Donning an elaborate frock made of colourless plastic, she dances to an operatic song that satirises the imperialistic, patriotic rhetoric of the oppressor. These people should be grateful! Like the dress, we can see right through it. It’s comical but it’s also nasty and spot-on and bang up-to-date. Compare with any of the hateful rantings of the ignoramus Trump. Fake history is just as bad as fake news.
Seeta Patel is a charismatic presence, expressive and enigmatic in equal measure. Director-choreographer Lina Limosani keeps the action clearly focussed, augmenting it with a sound design that incorporates sound effects to suggest location, and sound bytes to get the point across.
A provocative, politically pertinent and engaging piece. I got a lot out of it after all.