ContemporaryDanceNorth East & YorkshireReview

Skin Reimagined – Riley Theatre, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds

Reviewer: Rich Jevons

Artistic Directors: Gail & Ian Parmel

Choreographers: Akiko Kitamura & Vincent Mantsoe

Composers: Kelichiro Shibuya & Peter Maxwell-Dixon

Ace Dance and Music’s Skin Reimagined is an exploration of the meaning of skin colour in two acts: the first, Blind Trip, choreographed by Akiko Kitamura; the second, Letlalo, by Vincent Mantsoe.

Blind Trip begins by asserting that skin colour does not define who you are and later through projected text we are privy to personal knowledge of traumatic memories related to the subject. The dancers are touching each other’s skin, lifting and reaching out before a background of a projected heart beating and soundtrack of pulsating rhythms. The dancers cast shadows against the screen that also depicts huge pupils and faces dissolving. At times there are jerky gestures, then fluid movement but always with a martial feel, including pulling fists and kicks. The group perform in synch, shaking and spinning frenetically before a backdrop of two circles with lips inside talking on skin. The rhythms become faster as the dancers spin, swipe, curl up and spring out. As the voice-over becomes distorted the on-screen words dissolve. Despite the in-fighting there are moments of unity that can be taken to mean the underlying humanity that defeats any barriers set up by the colour of our skin.

There is a beautiful pas de deux before a fiery red screen with the two dancers interlocking and copying each other. The group return and there is excellent use of space and also, in particular, the eye contact establishes relationships within the group. Kitamura’s simply brilliant choreography benefits from the powerful projection by Akihiko Kaneko and atmospheric lighting, frequently in chiaroscuro, by Jack Weir.

While Blind Trip has an Oriental feel, Vincent Mantsoe’s Letlalo (meaning skin in his mother tongue) is more of an African-themed ritual. Described as ‘a journey through time and about human power and spirit’, like its predecessor it denies the idea that the colour of our skin gives us our identity. The soundtrack features an African vocal that is a plaintive and painful call to which the dancers move with grace. But they are also capable of dynamism with sudden leaps and twists that are accompanied by wild bongo drums.

There are a series of well-developed set pieces that are both hyperactive yet sensual at times. The dancers manage to really fill the stage leaving the audience not quite sure where to look, it is such a visual feast. The pace slows for the denouement with a solo violin and the dancers simply slowly walking. When the light dims we are left with many thoughts by this profound and powerful piece.

 

Reviewed on 7th March 2020

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Profound & Powerful

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