Storytelling in dance is in the eyes, it exists in the body of course but so much is conveyed through the eyes. The source material for the story told by Avant Garde Dance is familiar, but like the title suggests it contains a twist and, it begins much earlier than the classic Dickens tale, with a young Fagin (Arran Green) banding together with one Bill Sykes (Stefano A. Addae) whilst both languish inside a Victorian gaol.
The blending and blurring together of b-boy and contemporary forms was electrifying with Director/Choreographer Tony Adigun devising a uniquely diverse and spectacular choreographic language. Just moving around the stage set became a subtle art in itself, so imaginative with split-second timing and explosive athleticism.
The repeated mechanical motif in the gaol where inmates are put to work, was particularly effective in conveying the message of routine, discipline and the process of dehumanisation: it is interesting to note the covered face – previously seen in the gaol section – reappears and in doing so dehumanises the pickpocket’s target.
“Not a moment of choreography wasted nor an ounce of energy unspent”
Let’s think about the script for a minute. From the opening Dodger (Aaron Nuttall) takes the role of narrator and builds the story through brief moments of spoken word and verse, repetition wordplay and sibilant sounds oft found in the makeup of hip hop lyrics: beyond the contemporary forms were classic patterns and sublime lines of pure poetry. One such moment is made all the more powerful by a simple lighting decision that takes Fagin’s nocturnal soliloquy and makes it practically Shakespearean.
There were sections where the movement switched from fast to slow mid-phrase the dancers in full control, having a floating quality almost defying gravity. The way props were incorporated into the choreography was particularly clever, the complexity of the table sequence between Nancy (Ellis Saul) and Oliver (Sia Gbamoi) for instance, was reminiscent of a martial arts film. It’s a crucial moment in the plot as young Oliver stands between Nancy and Bill: the differing qualities of the dance embodying the emotion, intent. Once again the dancer’s ability to tell a story, convey behaviours with all the inherent nuances, comes to the fore brilliantly.
The costumes by Yann Seabra were gorgeously detailed, the long johns and toppers fittingly reminiscent of Clockwork Orange early on in the piece, Nancy’s flirty skirt with the laced back, to Fagin’s strikingly theatrical fur-trimmed tail-coat brilliantly sidestepping the shabby rags look, often associated with productions of Oliver.
At times the sound was brutal and oppressive, a trip-hop soundtrack with original music written and composed by Seymour Milton & Benji Blowers, adding so many more thrilling layers to the dark alienation. The set design (also Yann Seabra) is imaginative, deftly versatile, mobile and amorphous casting strange shadows on an already shadowy world.
By Act 2 Fagin’s lot have become an outfit not to be messed with, menacing, predatory, a pack mentality reflected in the choreography has strengthened the bonds between them. When the gang are showing Oliver how it’s done there’s a repeated handkerchief stealing motif, that all of a sudden becomes central to the story. If new boy Oliver can learn the trick then he will become ‘one of us’… word to the writer Maxwell Golden for working in some of the classic Oliver lines.
The venue for tonight’s performance was Wilberforce Sixth Form College and Fagin’s Twist by Avant Garde Dance was programmed as part of the Autumn Back To Ours festival: Back To Ours are the organisation responsible for building on the legacy of 2017. Squaring the circle of growing the cultural offer by building capacity locally, both in terms of audience development and artistic opportunities, while still presenting first-rate work is no mean feat.
In bringing Fagin’s Twist to Hull and by giving the Wilberforce students the chance to perform in the opening five minute section – where they must have been drilled as much as a pro-company because they acquitted themselves admirably – Back To Ours have managed to achieve just that.