Protein Dance in Border Tales at Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival

Posted: April 10th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Protein Dance in Border Tales at Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival

Protein Dance, Border Tales, Ramallah Municipal Theatre, April 7

Border Tales
Yuyu Rau aloft with the cast of Border Tales (photo: © Sebastian Marcovici)

This is the first of a series of articles and reviews from the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival to which I was very kindly invited by its director, Khaled Elayyan and his team.

Following the appearance of Protein Dance in LOL at Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival in 2012, the company’s artistic director, Luca Silvestrini, returned to the region as part of his research for a new work on the subject of refugees and identity. As he writes in the program note, ‘I’ve travelled across England, Slovenia, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Palestine and India and learned that there’s a common, complex and unresolved space between people. This emotional, sometimes physical, sometimes socially awkward space is strongly influenced by a restless collision of cultures, traditions, religious views and political interests. I see this space in between as a border, the outer part of all of us; a fragile partition that defines who we are and perpetuates a yearning to belong.’ 

This notion of an ‘unresolved space between people’ has gained in relevance since Border Tales was first created in 2013; its implications have taken on a heightened relevance with the Brexit issue alone. Watching the performance recently in Ramallah adds a level of poignancy because of the continuing illegal expulsion of Palestinians from their former homes by ‘settlers’ of an occupying, predatory state, forcing them to live as refugees in their own country (what an odd irony that EU citizens seeking to remain in the UK are required by the Home Office to register for ‘settled’ status). Choosing to program such a work in Ramallah is evidence of the uncompromising view of the festival organizers that the dance body is not only personal but political.

Silvestrini’s cast — Temitope Ajose-Cutting, Eryck Brahmania, Andrew Gardiner, Anthar Kharana, Stephen Moynihan, Yuyu Rau and Kenny Wing Tao Ho — is a microcosm of society in the UK’s current post-colonial makeup. Andy (Gardner) throws a neighbourhood party to which they are all invited; his pivotal role in provoking their tales of social and cultural assimilation through his cheerfully blithe ignorance of their mores — and his willingness to ascribe to them stereotypical qualities — demonstrates the devastating vulnerability of multiculturalism (see also Lloyd Newson’s treatment of this topic in DV8’s Can We Talk About This?). There is, however, no calculated offence in Andy’s buffoonery; like the traditional clown, he holds up a mirror for us to check our own tendencies.

By using the cast’s self-deprecatory awareness within his satirical framework Silvestrini disabuses us of some of the more ingenuous barriers to mutual respect and understanding. Within this framework he allows his cast to clarify their own feelings and values in both text and dance and particularly in the latter — to Kharana’s uplifting musical accompaniment — we begin to see a communal self-expression emerge within a multi-cultural group. And while the perspective of Border Tales is distinctly British, the depiction of a ‘restless collision of cultures’ can be recognized in any society where immigration, whether forced or welcomed, is an acknowledged strand of government policy. One reason Silvestrini has revisited Border Tales is what he sees as today’s ‘more divisive and intolerant co-existence’ that underpins much of the current Brexit debate. Andy devises a simple skipping pattern for his guests to the refrain ‘in and out, in and out’ to which he adds with a gleeful laugh, ‘Leave, remain, leave, remain, open the gates, close the gates…’ His mood of benevolent gaiety is nevertheless tested when Wing asks for his advice on how to become ‘more English’. Andy has no advice to offer so Wing begins to copy him, at which point Andy pushes him back with the incensed injunction: ‘Don’t take my job away!’

When all the guests have left at the end of the party, a confused and overwhelmed Andy sits down next to the cheerfully buoyant ‘welcome’ balloon to ponder, like the audience, what has just happened. How you react to his pathos depends on where you stand on the causative history of British colonial policy. Border Tales can be seen as a damning critique of British mentality, a sympathetic appreciation of immigrant struggles and a superimposed series of finely honed, well-paced tales that attempts to resolve ‘the space between people’. But when, as a UK citizen, I read about how the British government set up the establishment of Israel under the terms of the Balfour declaration in 1917 only to turn away from the continuous dismantling of its spirit; how it left the Indian empire to its fate in 1947; how it has recently treated the Windrush generation of immigrants and how it is in the throes of trashing its relationship with Europe, Andy’s role offers a salutary reflection on what constitutes our ‘borders’. 


Hetain Patel: Be Like Water

Posted: February 14th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hetain Patel: Be Like Water, Rich Mix, February 2

Hetain Patel in Be Like Water

As with the popular evolution of wine, dance has gone from its traditional forms through international styles to ethnic cross-fertilization. Hetain Patel’s Be Like Water is such a delight that it reminds me of a recent comment by a wine writer who said that thirty years ago the idea of the best-tasting burgundy coming from Hungary would have been unthinkable. Be Like Water’s humour and intelligence, conceived as a Bruce Lee-inspired autobiographical fragment by a Bolton-bred first generation Indian video artist and a Taiwanese dancer, make it one of the most refreshing works I have seen in a long time.

Patel is a visual artist whose video installation To Dance Like Your Dad was included at Dance Umbrella last year. Parts of that installation find their way into Be Like Water, which was originally conceived as a video work but passed through several transformations before emerging as a dance theatre work with a multitude of elements and a deceptively simple path. All credit to Patel and Yuyu Rau for the text, and to Eva Martinez and Michael Pinchbeck for the dramaturgy, seamlessly weaving together a video tour of father Patel’s coach building factory with the son’s superimposed guide to his stage set, Bruce Lee with the erhu, China with Bolton and Kung Fu moves with Rau’s spirited solo of childlike enthusiasm that closes the performance.

As varied and beautiful as the individual elements of Be Like Water are, what ultimately holds it all together is the theme, which is contained in the title. In his To Dance Like Your Dad, Patel is clearly in awe of his father, and in Be Like Water he conjures out of the air the words Every now and then in my life I have tried to be like my father. Trying to be someone else has its hazards: as a student Patel adopts a fake Indian accent and grows his hair and moustache like his father which allow him to get a discount in Indian stores but he finds the moustache is so out of proportion to his own face that it makes him forget who or what he is trying to be. In imitating Bruce Lee he ends up in a police station for disorderly behaviour delivering a kick to a dustbin in the street (an action picked up ironically on CCTV). On a residency in China he learns a paragraph of Chinese from a Chinese woman, but discovers that he has picked up his teacher’s inflections (Patel has a particularly acute sense of mimicry) that make him sound to the Chinese like a woman. Throughout the work, Patel uses his self-awareness and humour to reveal these inconsistencies of expression through anecdote and well-conceived video work (with the aid of digital artist, Barret Hodgson).

At the beginning he speaks in Chinese — to avoid any assumptions, he says, about his northern accent — and Rau translates into English. He then admits what we have begun to suspect, that he only knows one short paragraph of Chinese that he repeats on all subsequent occasions with varying emphasis while Rau dissembles by delivering a consistent English text. Patel thus wraps himself up in disguises that fool nobody but himself. On the other hand, one senses his father, an Indian immigrant who speaks with a broad Bolton accent, has no need of disguise and is very much himself. Rau reminds us that Bruce Lee found in Kung Fu the only way he could most honestly express himself and Rau herself learned classical ballet as a child in Taiwan but only when she started studying contemporary dance in London did she find her true expression (which makes her final solo dance to erhu accompaniment so poignant). Patel’s moment of realization seems to come as he sits listening to Ling Peng ‘translate’ his Chinese into notes on the erhu. As Ling Peng plays (beautifully), a live projection of her hands on the bow arching across the strings expresses the oneness that exists between musician and instrument. It is as if Patel himself finds his voice in soaking up the influences of his collaborators, in assimilating his own experiences and in reaching his conclusions; he becomes one with his work. Be Like Water has the wisdom of a modern fable, expressed imaginatively and generously, speaking to us all.