The new double bill from ACE Dance and Music, UNKNOWN REALMS, is a dynamic exploration of past, present, and future. With its roots in afrofusion and contemporary dance, the company approaches its subject matter with a distinctly global attitude. In this stripped-back production, the focus is on the dancers, their breaths and stomps and yells adding punctuation to the music by Andy Gabri and Yvan Talbot. The atavistic atmosphere they create is reinforced by the dancers pounding at the floor and their chests. Their bodies and the earth resound like drums, giving the performance an irresistible wild energy.
TNBT: The Night Before Tomorrow…, choreographed by Serge Aimé Coulibaly, leans into the individuality of the dancers with each of them unfurling their own narratives as the piece develops. Aggressive and disturbing, the tension between reality and escape becomes a contagion that spreads between the dancers. Perhaps leaning a little too much into its own lack of direction, the piece is occasionally formulaic in its stylisation and intent, detracting from an otherwise insatiable and unrelenting energy. As each dancer takes their turn in the frenzy, they bite, claw and strike at themselves and each other, the other dancers watching with a disturbing calmness from the sidelines. There is a sense that the audience are compliant witnesses to the indifferent supervision of self-destruction, something I can’t help relating to the impact of colonialism on historical and modern politics.
As the piece builds up to a fever pitch of flashing lights and pounding bass; limbs fly and the tension finally lifts: there is a sense of long-awaited relief as the dancers find harmony in the chaos. Yet even at the height of oblivion, we are haunted by a voiceover reminding us of the reality of colonialism that we cannot escape.
The perfect balm to this restless energy is MANA: THE POWER WITHIN, choreographed by Vincent Mantsoe & Gail Parmel. It is a transcendent piece, the dancers effortlessly transitioning between confrontation and acceptance, sword-like dynamism and meditative control. The staging evokes the dappled light of a forest, the dancers weaving through bamboo staffs, each step carefully considered. In contrast to the dissonance of TNBT, in MANA: THE POWER WITHIN there is an interconnectedness between the dancers through the whole of the piece: each action is a reaction to another. At one point the poles and dancers line up at the front of the stage, glaring out at the audience, testing us.
In the intimate setting of Theatre Severn’s Walker Theatre, the dancers eye to eye with the audience, it feels like the dancers are challenging us to feel uncomfortable; challenging us to confront our own beliefs and understandings of the world, so we can leave the theatre that little bit wiser.
UNKNOWN REALMS is a masterpiece of emotional and spiritual exploration. From the fierce abandon of TNBT to the secretive and prowling MANA, it is an unmissable exploration of what it means to be a global citizen today.
Stars out of five:
TNBT: THE NIGHT BEFORE TOMORROW…: 3
MANA: THE POWER WITHIN: 5
10 & 11 November, 8pm, The Lowry, Quays Theatre, Salford Quays. Call: 0161 876 2000 or Book Online
17 & 18 November, Time TBC, Bijlmer Parktheater, Amsterdam. Call: +31 6 50461144
23 November, 7:30pm, Dance City, Newcastle upon Tyne. Call: 0191 261 0505 or Book Online