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Inception/My Exile is in My Head (Manchester)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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A dance double bill certainly offers striking examples of arts from South Africa but at times struggles to breach the cultural gap.

Inception, the opening part of the bill, feels more like a series of events than a cohesive whole. Choreographer and performer Sonia Radebe gradually emerges from darkness onto the stage to pulsing, throbbing Taj Travellers’ music. Her dance may represent a journey – one that is psychological as much as physical.

At times Radebe’s slow hunched movements suggest she is burdened by a weight or an illness as her limbs twitch in palsy. Alternatively her backwards-scuttling movements make it possible that she might be escaping. Curiously there is no sense of release; although Radebe is shown running towards a goal her fixed grin indicates a degree of anxiety rather than fulfillment. The double bill is of short duration so a lengthy interval that disrupts concentration is hard to justify.

The prison notes of Wole Soyinka inspire My Exile is in My Head. Possibly an awareness of the source material might help comprehension as the excerpts broadcast during the performance add little more than atmosphere. The liquid and flowing movements of choreographer and performer Qudus Onikeku are held in check by the subject matter. Onikeku restrains himself to the extent that the show lacks the cathartic effect of dance. Even an amazing sequence of somersaults seems an act of desperation rather than a celebration.

The dance does suggest someone trying to acclimatise himself to freedom after a lengthy period of confinement. Live music played at high volume has an almost industrial sound against which Onikeku reacts as if it is a physical barrier. The opening movements are cramped and agonised. Spider- like movements give the impression of someone who has to re-learn to use his own limbs. When Onikeku begins to open up the initial sequence resembles tai chi so that it seems like you are watching someone exercise rather than dance.

Although both dancers convey the struggle faced by their characters a leisurely pace and audience difficulty establishing a narrative hinder complete appreciation of their work.  

- Dave Cunningham

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