LDIF 21: Black British Dance Platform

April 30, 2021

David Mead

Leicester’s Let’s Dance International Frontiers (LDIF) was the first major festival to go digital after the pandemic struck in 2020. A year on, speaking at the launch of its 2021 and eleventh edition, artistic director and CEO of curators Serendipity, Pawlet Brooks recalls, “We had no clue what that meant, but we decided we would go for it in any case. We just felt that we needed to do something. It was our 10th birthday and we were going to celebrate.” As theatres look to reopen, she now hopes that LDIF 2020 and 2021 are the bookends that started and finished the shutdown.

The 2021 festival-opening Black British Dance Platform featured the work of British based artists from the African and African-Caribbean Diaspora; and two gems they turned out to be.

Ruins by FUBUNATION is an interdisciplinary project with live dance, film and photography elements that considers blackness and masculinity through the experiences of founder-choreographers Rhys Dennis and Waddah Sinada. The powerful and engrossing film of the live performance shown demonstrates just how complex that two things are.

It’s opens with Dennis and Sinada slowly moving out of the upstage darkness. At first, it actually looks like one body but then you realise there are four hands, and that Dennis has one hand over Sinada’s face. It’s not only incredibly discomforting but it’s confusing too. For a moment you wonder whether Dennis is guiding or restraining his partner. The question is answered when Sinada tries to pull away.

What follows reveals much about the two men and their relationship. There is a simmering tension that’s magnified by Adrienne Ming’s dim lighting and Sam Nunez’s other-worldly soundscape that wraps itself around everything and that gets right inside your head. They eye each other up, they fight. It does get aggressive at times. For all that, there’s always this underlying feeling that they are in this together; and that to get through life, they ultimately need each other.

Dani Harris-Walters in Happy Fathers DayPhoto Sophie Bradbury
Dani Harris-Walters
in Happy Fathers Day
Photo Sophie Bradbury

All the time, here’s a powerful sensitivity. There are tender moments. As their bodies meet, they literally lean on and support one another, lift and carry each other, all with beautiful control. On the inside, one senses that both are struggling to come to terms with the contradictions between what society, or different parts of society, or different generations, expects men to be, and what deep down they, personally, actually are.

None of any of this is rushed. Dennis and Sinada always take their time, letting images sink in, and setting off thoughts and reflections, not only on their experiences and inner battles, but on one’s own too. That Ruins does the latter is an indication of just how good it is.

It ends with the pair drifting back into the upstage shadows with nothing resolved. That, I guess, is how it really is.

“Hi… Helloooo… I haven’t done this before. It’s my first time.” So performer and choreographer Dani Harris-Walters introduces us to Egbert at the start of Happy Father’s Day, a sperm cell looking to find his purpose in life. If that sounds like it should have a comedic edge, don’t worry, it does, and in a way that is not going to offend anyone.

It’s also a brilliantly judged mixture of hip hop movement alongside a considerable amount of text, including plenty of biological terminology and rap. Harris-Walters is so natural, so enthusiastic, his approach so warm, that you can’t help but be drawn in. The material is so good that he doesn’t need to be crude. He doesn’t resort to jokes. It all just flows like his chatting to his best friend.

Over the half-hour, there are so memorable images. A sperm cell dancing in a night club? Yes, really. The scene before ejaculation where he signs up to it without reading the document first is described vividly, and brings back memories of Woody Allen’s 1972 film Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). But perhaps best of all is the quite brilliant appearance of the Rastafarian Old Father Sperma, who liberally dispenses advice.

In amongst it all are a few serious comments, but it’s the many images conjured that stick in the memory, and Harris-Walters’ charming, engaging style. Brilliant.

Let’s Dance International Frontiers 2021 continues to May 8, with further events scheduled for June. Visit www.serendipity-uk.com for details.