(Sanjoy Roy’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/20.)

It sounds like a sterling idea for a community artwork: a collaboration between East London Dance, Hofesh Shechter Company, Historic Royal Palaces and Lift, who paired four choreographers with youth groups to create an open-air performance at the Tower of London celebrating the history and diversity of the East End and its people.

Four years in the making and directed by Shechter, East Wall turned out to be much more than that, something far more convincing: an expression of human complexity that combined community with conflict, vitality with violence, civilisation with its discontents. At the start, the Gold Vocal Collective sang a surreal, harmonised version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Then an entire brass band of guardsmen in full livery rounded the corner and marched across the stage. Was this already a dance performance? It was costumed entertainment, it was a blend of sound and motion, and it was – as the band marched off, leaving a solitary civilian on the floor, as if trampled – a ceremonial display and an embodiment of militarism. Early on, our sense of place and perspective was becoming complicated.

There were subtler but no less deep ambiguities in James Finnemore’s section with Incognito and Shift dance companies, featuring a kind of queen bee in a hive of courtly activity. Finnemore’s finely crafted group-work showed the surrounding dancers guiding her steps, parting before her, stabilising her leans. Arrayed in front of her, hands held open, they could be passive drones awaiting her bidding – or was she the reluctant figurehead for an expectant crowd?

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