Friday 26 April 2024

Dance: Do you wanna funk?

creator-director Ray Young
performers Azara Meghie, Bambi Phillips Jordan
set Naomi Kuyck-Cohen • costumes Mia Maxwell
lighting Nao Nagai • sound Naomi Jackson
Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells, London • 25-26.Apr.24

An astonishing celebration of culture and queerness, this experimental piece is quite demanding of the audience, as it uses dance and performance art to both delight and provoke the senses. Skilfully performed, and staged with a wonderful mix of lights, costumes, music and even smells, the show is energetic and also somewhat indulgent in extended, repetitive sequences that are carefully designed to make a point.

The first section features Jamaican music, with performers Azara Meghie and Bambi Phillips Jordan already circling around each other as the audience enters the studio and takes seats around the edge of the dance floor. This Caribbean vibe kicks up a gear as Vybz Kartel's It Bend Like Banana blasts from the speakers, and the dancers begin striking lively acrobatic poses while both oozing attitude and gleefully hamming it up for the crowd and each other. Sexy and sleek, their costumes are made of leather and lace with red accents.

In the style of an epic lip-sync, they alter their costumes on-stage, losing the lace and replacing trainers with stiletto-heeled boots, and the music changes gear. Their body-positive chemistry is strong, adding a sexy vibe as puffs of smoke billow across the space and both the music and choreography take on more sensual R&B rhythms. Behind this are spoken words that emerge as an evangelistic sermon exploding with homophobia. The words become louder, and the movement gets stuck on repeat, locked in spotlight squares for what seems like an eternity.

Finally, they are able to break out of this nightmare to the groove of Sylvester's Do You Wanna Funk, producing a bucket of oranges, which they begin to peel in silence, competing to de-skin each one in a single spiral move. Once all the oranges are peeled, they pass halves to the audience and begin eating them in increasingly seductive ways, covering the stage with juice and flooding our nostrils with the scent.

Through all of this, both Meghie and Phillips Jordan allow their personalities to come through, playfully using their distinct physicalities as they blur the lines of culture, race and sexuality. Aside from the extremely extended middle section, which is deliberately harrowing, they also have a lot of fun with each other, and their cheeky smiles and seriously gifted dance skills combine to create a terrific atmosphere in which bigger ideas can swirl around hauntingly. It's rather elusive, but also unforgettable.

For details,
photos by Jack Thomson, Rosie Powell • 25.Apr.24

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