Finding expression in a dangerous world: Aakash Odedra Company in #JeSuis

Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London
November 7, 2018

Maggie Foyer

The dance world often seems divorced from the real world expressed in newspaper headlines: a world of conflict, displacement and fear.  The newspapers, of course, select what to print but Aakash Odedra looks beyond the hashtagged favourites to present a group of seven Turkish dancers living an uncertain reality. Odedra is better known as a solo artist, and this is an impressive first company work. Although the structure struggles to find a satisfying form, #JeSuis is an important work that rightly won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award.

The work had an extraordinary genesis, relayed in the post show talk. Odedra was impressed by the dancers at his workshops at Mimar Sinan University and also inspired by their stories. Istanbul sits at the gateway between East and West and despite its rich cultural heritage it often remains peripheral to Western eyes. In #JeSuis, Odedra seeks to remedy this anonymity.

From the outset the atmosphere is tense: the soundscore by Nicki Wells counterparts the tension with harsh grating sounds and the lighting, sometimes just a lamp physically moved by a dancer, creates a canvas of moving shadows adding another layer of anxiety. A single table and a few chairs furnish what could be an underground bunker, giving the dancers the props to create dramatic scenes where the distrust and fear are palpable. In this bleak setting, the dancers’ powerful expressive bodies, fired by absolute commitment, vividly create a world of low-level relentless terror.

A tall male dancer dressed in an army greatcoat becomes a figure of authority who shapes the action. The situation, however, is seldom black and white and uncertainty fuels the fear. There are moments of extreme brutality but at other times the soldier seems almost as much a victim in this dystopian world.

The dancers, Gizem Aksu, Yasin Anar, Evrim Akyay, Taner Güngör, Su Güzey, Beril Şenöz and Melissa Ugolini, all deserve mention. Each is a highly skilled artist with a unique movement vocabulary. The choreography and design element effectively create a world so real we feel the dread but finding a resolution is left open. A comforting moment of whirling bodies, like a sufi meditation, offers respite but the dancers remain in a dangerous world where humanity struggles to find expression.