A powerful look at those trapped by war: Aakash Odedra Company in #JeSuis

The Patrick Centre at the Birmingham Hippodrome
February 15, 2018

Phil Preece

In a dark basement a group of people sit around a table while the flickering of the electric lights, snatches of radio reports on a weak frequency fading in and out. The irregular sound of distant, then nearer explosions tell us at once that we are with refugees from conflict under bombardment somewhere in the world. Temporarily they are safe, but the danger is obvious.

During the next hour, choreographer Akash Odedra and his dancers take us to the very edge of madness and then back from the brink in a triumph of the human spirit. The genius of the marvellous #JeSuis is that it rescues the hopelessness of the victims of conflict everywhere through the act of making it, although wordlessly said.

Set in an unnamed place, the intensity of the claustrophobic location and the often desperate-seeming action of these trapped bodies place becomes not irrelevant, but rather universal. A recurring motif is the involuntary gesture of flight, but with nowhere to fly to. These are people trapped in a conflict they do not fully comprehend, with an invisible, perhaps completely unknown enemy.

Aakash Odedra Company in #JeSuisPhoto Sean Goldthorpe
Aakash Odedra Company in #JeSuis
Photo Sean Goldthorpe

Odedra explains that, “It began with Turkey, but moved outside.” Its subject is conflict, or perhaps rather the fate of folk anywhere in the world caught up in a struggle they had no part in starting. Another repeated idea is repression, the use of cling-film a particularly powerful and shocking tool that implies the silencing of dissent, or even self-censorship. There is a microphone available, but it’s one no one can use.

“Originally the piece concerned itself with refugees but evolved to discuss oppression and the suppression of the freedom of speech itself,” adds Odedra. In dance terms this is expressed most powerfully by the way we see that under such conditions life of any kind is merely notional, reduced to a minute by minute existence where the raising of a hand or a single step may mean nothing or everything, while outside unseen but imagined gestures may range from one hastily-raised hand to a full-on war of attrition.

Odedra leaves hanging a suggestion that conflict is integral to the make-up of the human animal and therefore an inevitability on a tiny as well as a global scale; currently terrible conflicts are flowering obscenely in many places of the world. But this marvellous piece does not answer questions, rather it poses them, and rising as #JeSuis does out of the European arena of age-old conflicts, it has an historic pedigree going back to the first human societies.

#JeSuis is a genuine journey for audiences. The evening more than anything proving what a seriously rich mix the dance world is, and all without a word being said, proving dance is a truly universal language. More please, more.