Review: Botis Seva - Wild Card - InNoForm - Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells

Performance: 24 & 25 September 2015
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Friday 25 September 2015

Wild Card - Botis Seva 'InNoForm'. Photo: Camilla Greenwell

Botis Seva’s InNoForm brings us an evening full of theatrical complexity and hip hop artistry, diluted by experimentation. It’s not an easy ride, but one that shakes us out of our dance- audience comfort zone. Seva, with his re-contextualisation of hip hop, contemporary dance and experimental theatre challenges our expectations and assumptions about viewing all three genres. He’s not interested in physical tricks or virtuosic displays, but much more in re-packaging and re-framing that material in order to create politically charged social commentary.

In Orator which is an installation in the blacked-out Kahn Theatre, we survey a scene of psychological turbulence. Ezra Owen is strapped to a chair like a psychiatric patient, shaking. Some of us are invited to steady him – while concerned Ekin Bernay scribbles recklessly on a bed. From our headphones we listen to three different sound tracks and I get frustrated trying to settle on one that works with what I’m seeing. Too much sensory information and little clarity, but it’s clear that we have to find our own way through this. When Bernay collapses beside a flickering TV we know that she too is trying to resist our daily diet of information overload. It’s an effective introduction to a production that is all about questioning ‘the norm.’

InNoForm comprises of short pieces performed by a variety of Sevas’s company members and guest artists. A stunning opening for Reck, in which each one of the dancers’ naked backs are spotlighted so that we see every muscle twitching, is a brooding and intense exploration of individuality as well as the muscularity of the back. With a riotous explosion of raucous music the company re-groups in a pack. The movement style of this mob consists of truncated jumps, fast side-steps and manic hand gestures which makes them seem nervous, jittery and on the look- out for something. They are disarmingly un-human in their behaviour, like members of a primordial society, trying to escape from their habitat and attempting to organize themselves into some kind of social order. Their non-verbal utterings and repetitive screams in the music further alienates although there are also actions that are familiar. It’s a fascinatingly different commentary on group dynamics.

A welcome break from the jarring physicality is Chouaib Brik’s solo Mawsoufa, a very soft, floor-based work in which head spinning, shoulder roles and body twists are lengthened out through meltingly slow dynamics while Brik’s mood is introverted and investigative. Together with choreographer Lee Griffiths, they infuse break- dancing with a searching, spiritual flavour.

Jordan Douglas and Victoria Shulungu’s duet recalls the master/pupil relationship in martial arts. Humorous in tone and compactly precise in action, it extends the cultural terrain of Seva’s work but also the skill base of his dancers .

Guvnas tackles the ugly face of nationalism; “who are ya” is a catchy refrain of the performers as they search the audience for anyone who might have arrived “by boat.” Cheeky, cockney football fans quickly morph into fascist thugs and the messages about our ‘tolerant’ British society are doubly potent in their delivery by black British and mixed race performers who so wittily inhabit the territory of the racist bigot.

Sound scores of experimental electronic music and hip hop embellished with political texts and sound-bites by Lars Sylvest, Lauri Achte and Mikey J Asante further push Seva’s theatre into a riveting melting pot of artistic inquiry and unique vision.

Photos: Camilla Greenwell

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

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