Review: Protein - Border Tales - The Place

Performance: 26 February - 15 March 2014
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Monday 3 March 2014

Protein's 'Border Tales' Photo: Chris Nash

Performance reviewed: 27 February

What is refreshing about Protein’s new gig is that aside from seating the audience on all four sides of the stage so that they are truly involved, it takes a hard and honest look at the messy melting pot of multicultural Britain.

While multiculturalism is celebrated for its rich diversity, vibrancy and exoticism, it ignores other sinister issues such as the English response to the waves of refugees and immigrants who bring their unique cultures with them. Recently the likes of DV8 and Akram Khan have delved below the glamorous surface of international Britain, a place where borders might be flexible but attitudes less so. The picture that Luca Silvestrini and his talented team paint is a desolate landscape in which the novelty of cultural diversity has worn off, in which fusion is starting to taste bland and harmonious living tricky.

Through explosions of rumbustious movement and continuous text, compiled from interviews and the dancers’ personal experiences, Protein shares with us stories and scenarios that make us laugh, cringe and reflect. Andy Pink’s vibrant live music ( performed by Anthar Kharana – whose musical diversity is astonishing in the array of instruments and styles he takes on) plays an integral part of blending the spoken work with the dancing and powers Border Tales along, as well as cushioning the onslaught of the persistent commentary. Equally impressive are the performers whose captivating presences make amends for any other weaknesses in the show.

The intimate arrangement of the space means that we are all implicated in the performers’ social discourse, which although is far from heavy, nevertheless nudges us out of our comfort zone We are addressed individually with comments that tease and delight or interrogations that unsettle : “I would never have made that comment, but did I feel it?” Stuart Waters prompts us to ask after his tirade of racist labelling.

Protein focuses on body language and the awkward physical exchanges between English people and everyone else. Greetings and handshakes inform material for duets, while much of the choreography draws attention to space and how we occupy it, what we assume is ‘ours’ and what we want ‘theirs’ to be. The dancers fluidly manoeuvre between these physical and mental boundaries. There’s Femi Oyewole who flaunts his body, rotating his pelvis and feeling his crotch, playing into the stereotype of super- sexual, over-physical black men. Yuyu Rau challenges the racially loaded assumptions that Chinese women are submissive, delicate or boring in an articulate danced monologue. Salah El Brogy takes all the insults about being Muslim and enacts them around the threat posed by his ‘terrorist’s’ rucksack. Eryck Brahmania comments on his mixed race identity, dividing his body up into Phillipino or Indian and finally crying out to his partner: “I can be whoever you want me to be”!

At the beginning Stuart Waters, the superior, lippy English boy introduces the dancers to each other. He’s a jerk, making embarrassing connections between them, mocking each of their identities through flippant and derogatory comments. “I feel like Bob Geldof” he says when he forces everyone to sing or dance in their ‘native styles’ at his world music party. However at the end the ‘foreigners’ turn on him, speaking in streams of multi-lingual phrases exposing his whiteness, his limitations, his confusions. Problematizing being British.

While the message from Border Tales doesn’t blame anyone, it makes us all feel like losers, unable to deal with this multicultural confusion. Silvestrini is ultimately successful in his mission which doesn’t communicate anything that we don’t already know, but forces us to question what we do.

Continues at The Place until Sat 15 March

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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