Choreographer: Dickson Mbi
‘Enowate’ is a Kenyang word that translates as ‘Truth Stands’, which is how Dickson Mbi is named by his Cameroonian family. He devised this dance piece after a visit to Cameroon, and it is a profoundly personal exploration of his life and his place in the world. Or rather ‘places’, for Dickson Mbi grew up in Dagenham and Cameroon, break-dancing and playing football for the West Ham youth team. All these contrasting elements are in the piece.
Alone on the vast Sadler’s Wells stage, a single dancer moves between shafts of light, falling, writhing, evoking animal shapes and spectral forms, never quite achieving peace. The stage picture is hazy, gloomy, difficult to focus on, and the dancer flits in and out of shadow, and is more often than not doubled over so that his back and shoulders are the main focus. This stance allows the dancer to evoke insects, animals, spirit creatures. It is less successful at presenting human shapes, and this is telling – the performance lasts an hour, and Dickson Mbi is upright for about 15 minutes of that.
The finale involves a range of exquisitely crafted video effects, the dancer behind gauze with light emanating from his chest, branching and multiplying all across the screened stage. Animation is credited to Nick Hillel and Adam Smith, and their contribution is truly impressive. The lighting, designed by Lee Curran, works very well with the other-worldliness of the choreography.
Dickson Mbi worked with Simon McBurney to achieve a physical expression of the natural world. The beginning of the piece does this quite effectively. The finale evokes a sort of embodied cosmic explosion, and that, with the video-scenography, is also impressive. What feels lacking is a human, extended set of movements. The low, crouched stance seems to demand a reaching moment, a freer, wider set of movements to bring the story some immediacy. There’s a brief passage at the start of the piece when Mbi stands and interacts with the audience. If that easy interaction had featured in the main dance, it would have brought it home.
The soundtrack features found sounds, street life, and the odd burst of very mellow piano music, as well as reverberating percussive effects. Those touches of humanity give a context for the animism and mystery of the piece, and more of that would have been very welcome. The movement is striking, the concept less so.
Reviewed on 14 October 2022