Multi-Cultural Britain Comes Under the Spotlight in Dance Piece

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Pink, Border Tales: Luca Silvestrini’s Protein, The Place, London, 28.02.2014 (J.O’D)

Protein's 'Border Tales' photo by Chris-Nash
Protein’s ‘Border Tales’ photo by Chris-Nash

Eryck Brahmania, Salah El Brogy, Stephen Moynihan, Femi Oyewole, Yuyu Rau, Stuart Waters, Kenny Wing Tao Ho
Apprentice Dancer: Jodie Honeybourne
Additional Cast: Eleni Papaioannou, Amanda Dufour, Sofie Burgoyne, Sacha Flanagan, Florencia Martina, Rosamaria Cisneros-Kostic
Musician: Anthar Kharana
Additional live music: Joe Boxshall, Femi Oyewole
Conceived and Directed by Luca Silvestrini
Composer: Andy Pink
Lighting Design: Jackie Shemesh
Costume stylist: Valentina Golfieri

The jagged line of blue light that divides the floor of the stage (around which the audience sits) at the start of this ‘funny and tender look at multi-cultural Britain’ is an effective reminder that it deals with the subject of otherness. ‘We’ve got burlesque and pole-dancing. We’ve got Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen,’ says dancer-actor Stuart Waters in apparent celebration of contemporary British life, and the possibilities it offers. ‘You can have anything you want on the base of your ten-inch pizza,’ he adds. But the way he says this (and he says it well) suddenly makes it sound as much like something lost as something gained.

The seven other performers are often placed in relation, or opposition, to this performer who represents a ‘Britishness’ that can have good intentions or that can react with aggression when it feels under threat. ‘Stuart, tell me how to be an Englishman,’ says one (who was born in Mansfield of Chinese parents). ‘He never saw a black man until he was eighteen,’ says another (who was born in Nigeria and grew up in London), ‘and then it was on EastEnders.’ One of the most successful sections of this dance-theatre work shows Stuart awkwardly hosting a party (‘You’re Muslim?’…‘Heavy!’). For it is when the performers interact (and move), rather than deliver monologues, that the words work best. The monologues, which are often addressed to a ‘You’ (‘I think you think…’, ‘You’d probably like it if…’), appear to assume that the audience is more homogenous than the cast. I might, at time, be the ‘You’ that is referred to (even as I’d like to think I wasn’t), but what about the woman from South America sitting opposite me? The focus on one kind of Britishness, its relation to otherness and the relation of otherness to it, can make the piece appear old-fashioned.

The movements work well at all times (particularly those of Eryck Brahmania in his monologue, and Yuyu Rau as she acts out the roles stereotypically ascribed to Eastern women). They complement the words like a physical teletext, illustrating the feelings of exclusion and awkwardness expressed by the performers as they move. When language becomes a barrier, movement is a way of communicating. The most positive moments come when it is shared, when the dancers move in unison. But if it gives these moments, Border Tales also takes them away: dancing can turn to fighting; one member of a group can suddenly be rejected for fear of the bomb he might be carrying in his backpack. A reference at this point to ‘personal belongings’ introduces the chilling, Orwellian note of modern public address systems.

‘Where are we going?’ a scared and tearful Stuart asks at the end as he sits holding a balloon with the word ‘Welcome’ printed on it. ‘We’re not going anywhere.’ Border Tales does not provide an answer. (‘I have nothing to teach or preach about,’ director Luca Silvestrini says in the programme). Perhaps one answer is to be found in the gesture of another dancer (Irish, in this case) who places a hand, tenderly, on the seated man’s head.

 John O’Dwyer