Concept and Choreography: Aakash Odedra
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Aakash Odedra is a British contemporary dancer and choreographer with a solid background in classical Indian styles, especially Kathak. Like his mentor, Akram Khan, Odedra uses this background as a starting point: foundations on which to build ambitious work that moves on – perhaps in some ways redefines – those origins to create bold contemporary work. #JeSuissees Odedra working with seven Turkish dancers to create a dance theatre work that explores the plight of individuals struggling against voicelessness in the fight against oppression.
#JeSuishonours those in prisons, in refugee camps, those hiding behind closed curtains, where their liberty, rights, and right to be heard are as imperilled as their lives.
The title references the global response to the Charlie Hebdo shootings (and those that followed) in Paris in early-2015. For a time many in the liberal west proclaimed #JeSuisCharlie in protest and solidarity with more than the victims but the right to free speech and the freedom of the press. #JeSuis considers the many who have not been hashtagged: those who must die to be hashtagged and those that will never achieve that acknowledgement for events that don’t happen in the safe havens of the west. The people we overlook, perhaps blame and do not recognise as ‘us’: protestors, activists, journalists, refugees.
The starting point is Erdoğan’s Turkey but there is more than sufficient universality in the setting and Ryan Dawson Laight’s designs for the relevance to echo loudly from Eastern Europe to the Middle East: anywhere people are living under oppressive regimes, in war zones, as persecuted minorities within unsympathetic states.
#JeSuispresents a series of powerful vignettes of life under oppression: people organising protests, in hiding, under arrest, under random persecution. There is a lone figure in a military coat who is sometimes leader and sometimes oppressor. The other six – four powerful women and two men – are more unified. The show demonstrates the courage it takes to live in fear and the dynamics of oppression and the strength and hope and resilience required to endure. How one can terrorise many or any one, and how the tables can turn when oppressor becomes victim. It is a powerful series of images that resonates strongly with world events as experienced by ordinary people; although when the ‘soldier’ is at the mercy of the group it is hard not to be reminded of the endings of Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein when they found themselves literally in the hands of the people they had brutalised for a generation.
But #JeSuisis not just message: it works fantastically well as a piece of dance theatre. The performances are gritty, authentic and bold. Odedra’s choreography (with Assistant Choreographer Konstantina Efthymiadou and the cast) is revelatory. Previous experience of Odedra’s work has seen solo double bills focusing on culture and personal identity. #JeSuis with its bold, ambitious, culturally comprehensive movement sees Odedra step clearly to the fore alongside his mentor Khan; also evoking the work of Hofesh Shechter, who is a master of taking all the horror of the world and creating a thrilling maelstrom of sound and imagery that makes his work somehow about everything. Here Odedra takes the violence that Shechter used repeatedly in his recent SHOW and puts back the pain and fear, the gut punch, the consequences. The combination of emotional heft and the sheer visceral weight and passionate intent of the choreography is thrilling, occasionally devastating.
#JeSuis also benefits from a remarkably beautiful lighting design by Alessandro Barbieri: clouds of haze, chiaroscuro, filtered light through shuttered windows, flickering pendants, deep shafts of shadow. The effect is cinematic and intense. The sound score is also well-judged, from collages of protest, the dancers’ own voices and exhilarating percussive dance tracks, with compositions by Nicki Wells.
#JeSuis is an always-relevant reminder of the lack of kindness and compassion in the world; the brutality and suffering that many people around the world live with daily and a reminder that the rights and freedoms we take for granted are little more than the coincidence of geography: Turkey being a prime example of a country that had ambitions to join the EU but is backsliding from democracy to tyranny on our own doorstep.
Reviewed 26 November 2018 | Image: Contributed