With newly implemented policy, Valerie’ Law asking the UK to invest in the protection of black women experiencing domestic abuse, it comes as no surprise that Body Politic’s show, THEM choreographed by Jackie Kibuka asks Hip Hop theatre audiences to continue the conversation, spotlitting trauma and mental health through an hour long physical dialogue of female ferocity and expression.
The piece starts with three women sitting on wooden chairs, centre stage with an empty chair each around them, representing the presence of another listening in. Voice-overs echoed on stage, almost whispering common gaslight phrases such as “shake it off”. The chairs allude to a mundane domesticity and the commonality between dancers and audience of the events that are about to pass. The trio breathe together, a conjuring of energy of sisterhood and togetherness in a papritory fashion before a chair choreography emerges in a theatrical feng shui type motion. The 6 chairs on stage are suddenly dancing, spinning and whirling like a vortex, pulling the audience into the lives of these three women.
The constant pointing at oneself, often used in Krump to denote speech (also pointing in general is used in Locking to gesture sharp direction and as funky stylistic aid to exude fun) was cleverly used to trace, isolate and almost dismember the body as though confusion and patriarchy are inscribed in and prescribed onto us as women.
The dialogue then begins to be uttered by the performers onstage, moving from the perceived internalised/questioning of the ownership of thoughts through voice overs to a clear distinction of the journey being faced by each performer. “Are you home safe”, “I’m fine”, “it’s my fault.” “It happens to everyone” Later the conversation evolved into dark humour which addressed us as an audience- “do rape alarms still exist?’, a testament to how long the struggle to abolish gender based violence has existed and the absurdity of its desensitised hilarity.
There were many beautiful images created by the dancers but one in particular was the cradling an empty chair like a baby which instantly induced the need for embrace and care that is often not afforded to female victims & survivors, particularly black women.
The notion of consent landed in the middle of the piece after a theatrical iteration of the age old “I’ve had one too many drinks at the party’ situation plays out. At the end of the party, one dancer is left on the floor; rolling, turning and swivelling. The chair vortex anarchy from the opening of the piece had now been transformed onto a singular body. This section spoke to the #metoo movement started by survivor and black activist, Tarana Burke. This movement is mirrored within the dance industry by centering white women. This part of the work reiterates the importance of highlighting and centring the experiences of black women.
The apex of the piece was signalled when the three dancers all stood on equidistant placed chairs upstage, awaiting their final slog at unpacking their shared oppression. A fury of collective breath, vigour and rage orbited through the space as percussive unison vortexes transformed into a tornado ensemble. Each dancer exploding with precise rigour; a culmination point of the experiences prior. All seems clear now, not discombobulated. The dancers were then pulled back to their chairs; a tense invisible bungee run, anchoring, drawing them back to their episodic domestic trap.
“I wish she’d believed me” was one of the final phrases spoken at the end of the piece as the dancers sat to deliberate their journey, hammering home the need for women to be vindicated.
With the horrific killings of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry in London and Asia Maynard in Missouri, it’s high time we all did our bit collectively to restore humanity upon the lives of black women and women at large in order to fight for their liberation and mental health. Body Politic’s, THEM brings to light the need for change, action and most importantly, for female voices to be heard.
Catch THEM on 18th March at Swindon Dance
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