©Chris­ti­an Tand­berg

My first thought when I see or hear the word fra­gile is the inab­il­ity of white­ness to ever view itself as an aggressor or per­pet­rat­or. From the moment I sat down in my seat at Bat­ter­sea Arts Centre to wit­ness The Power (of) the Fra­gile as part of the Shub­bak Fest­iv­al, I real­ised that fra­gil­ity has the power to, in this case, provide a show that enables the unima­gin­able to appear and dreams to be real­ised.

We under­stand this meta­phor in many iter­a­tions from the begin­ning to the end of the work. From Mohamed Touk­abri explain­ing to his 60 year old mum and fel­low per­former, Lati­fah Khamessi the rules of the theatre: back­stage, upstage, sound sys­tem, cur­tain, dance floor to Mohamed telling the audi­ence that due to a visa refus­al from Tunisia to Bel­gi­um for his mum, this show had been can­celled twice, 65,000 euros down the toi­let. Des­pite the odds, the show happened. Rules are there to be broken.

Latifa always dreamed of being a dan­cer but nev­er had the oppor­tun­ity for form­al train­ing and Mohamed, a world class b‑boy and con­tem­por­ary dan­cer was intent on mak­ing her dream become true. He con­tin­ued to coach her on stage through par­od­ies of the European dance can­non, trans­lat­ing tech­niques and styles from French to Eng­lish: Dance expres­sion­ist, Dance con­cep­tu­al and the final explan­a­tion of the fourth wall; allow­ing them to ‘Be in the here and now’. The beau­ti­ful satir­ic­al lay­er­ing illus­trated the arbit­rar­i­ness of dance, theatre and its rules as any­one des­pite their age or abil­ity, can dance on stage.   

Tchaikovsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ was the first offi­cial dance num­ber. Lati­fah used her arms to per­form abstract ges­tures mirrored by Mohamed before ref­er­en­cing Pina Bausch and shar­ing his know­ledge and exper­i­ence of European insti­tu­tions, later cit­ing tech­nic­al dance pos­i­tions and how to achieve them; shar­ing the notion of one fist between your feet is a par­al­lel pos­i­tion. As a pro­fes­sion­al dan­cer myself, I found great pleas­ure in this moment. 

Later, Nina Simone’s song ‘Images’ exem­pli­fies Mohamed’s love and respect for (in his words) his first coun­try (Lati­fah). The duo danced a con­sidered duet with a strik­ing moment in which Mohamed mid-head­stand, placed his feet togeth­er to cre­ate a dia­mond shape over Latifah’s head as they both covered eyes with their hands, dis­play­ing their phys­ic­al as well as spir­itu­al trust for each oth­er.

The ten­der­ness between moth­er and son is rarely some­thing that I per­son­ally get to wit­ness on stage. I felt lucky to be invited to wit­ness such beauty.

Finally, Latifa finds her own dance expres­sion. She likes Michael Jack­son and Madonna and claps, skips and dances aban­donly to Chic’s Le Freak, as we finally exper­i­ence Mohamed’s b‑boy iden­tity, as he back spins and flared stage right. The colo­ni­al jux­ta­posed with club/free/non white expres­sion­ist dance com­mu­nic­ated the unfoun­ded colo­ni­al jour­ney of what it means to be a “pro­fes­sion­al dan­cer”. Latifa is undeni­ably a dan­cer and is quite lit­er­ally where Mohamed gets his dance from.

Hav­ing both found their own free­dom of move­ment, it was time for Lati­fah to tell her story and we learn that she was born and raised in Tunisia without a form­al edu­ca­tion, mov­ing to Italy at 18 years old, where she found work and lived for 10 years. After meet­ing Mohammed’s fath­er on vaca­tion in Tunisia, she moved back to be with him, but this later caused VISA dif­fi­culty for her to go back to Italy. When Mohamed decided to study dance at the pres­ti­gi­ous school P.A.R.T.S in Bel­gi­um, she couldn’t vis­it him either due to visa issues. Lati­fah uses her words to tell her story whilst her son uses his body blend­ing his con­tem­por­ary train­ing with his b‑boy her­it­age, occa­sion­ally land­ing on Lati­fah’s lap to be cradled. 

The piece ended on a cel­eb­rat­ory note with Lati­fah dressed up as queen in which Mohamed rolled out a lit­er­al red car­pet. A sign from the ceil­ing fell to reveal a text writ­ten ‘ The Statue of integ­ra­tion’ and Mohamed held a flag of the EU, of course a funny remind­er to us in Eng­land who are no longer a part of it: a laugh­able and some­what ima­gin­ary bor­der. Mohamed danced joy­ously, elev­at­ing his moth­er as the queen of the stage and enact­ing the reversal of an action that she once did to him as a child.

Tran­scend­ing bor­ders through their bod­ies and elab­or­at­ing that the dis­tance and sep­ar­a­tion from source can actu­ally strengthen our roots, The Power (of) Fra­gile is a remind­er that dance and its power lives with­in us all and has the abil­ity to go bey­ond what we can humanly per­ceive. If you do not have the free­dom of move­ment because of a pass­port, free­dom can always be found through dance.

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Valerie Ebuwa

Valer­ie “wing girl” Ebuwa is a freel­ance dance artist and yoga teach­er from East Lon­don. She is cur­rently dan­cing for 3 con­tem­por­ary dance com­pan­ies and is one of the found­ing mem­bers of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.

About Valerie Ebuwa

Valerie "wing girl" Ebuwa is a freelance dance artist and yoga teacher from East London. She is currently dancing for 3 contemporary dance companies and is one of the founding members of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.