Three new works and a revival in a fine evening by mapdance 2021

Venue MK, Milton Keynes
June 2, 2021

One of the first companies to get up and running with live performances in summer 2020, mapdance returned to Venue MK with a programme of three new works by Yael Flexer, Joseph Toonga and Robert Clark, alongside a revival of AYIN by Ceyda Tanc, seen last year. It was a fine evening of largely ensemble dance by what is the University of Chichester’s MA touring company, but in which each piece had moments that allowed us to see the accomplished performers as individuals, which is very important as much as everyone of course wants as much stage time as possible.

The welcome return of Ceyda Tanc’s AYIN gets the 2021 programme off to a flying start. An exploration of ritual that recognises the human need for love or acceptance, physical or spiritual, the ensemble very much reflects a close-knit community. Helped along enormously by Alex McCall’s evocative Turkish-inspired music and Natalie Rowland’s lighting that seems to come from dimly lit lamps or perhaps a camp fire, the atmosphere is one of a warm evening as dusk fades. That lighting also catches the dancers’ bodies and Holly Murray and Tanc’s deeply-coloured costumes beautifully,

The choreography is unhurried, Tanc letting the work come to life at its own pace. Solos duets and trios emerge, many featuring strong partnering, but it’s in the ensemble moments that the work is at its best, the group ebbing and flowing across the stage as if blown by a gentle but breeze. Handing folding overhead like fluttering moths is a recurring motif. Even the simple act of them walking evokes so much. Everything is controlled and perfectly co-ordinated. At times it’s almost spiritual.

mapdance 2021 in Fun Humans by Jospeh Toonga
Photo courtesy mapdance

AYIN, made pre-pandemic, is the only work on the programme to feature physical partnering to any extent. While the others include duet and small group work, it’s almost always done at a distance; a reflection no doubt of the times we have been living through, and the difficulties of making and rehearsing work.

Very often, I also thought I detected an underlying uncertainly and an undercurrent of tension, although it has to be emphasised, not in the execution of the choreography.

Every language has it’s difficult to translate words. In Yiddish, ‘nu’ is one such. It can mean an encouraging ‘go on’, an impatient ‘come on’, or a suggestive ‘well’. It can be used to move a conversation on, to change the subject, perhaps after a difficult silence, and more. It all depends on context and tone of voice.

Made during the stop-start of lockdowns, Yael Flexer’s Nu plays with those ideas. The choreography has a pent-up, stop-start, energy about it. There’s lots to watch. Dancers frequently inhabit their own relatively small space, their frustrations at not being able to move freely exploding for all to see. In what appears to be a reference to the word’s connection to time, the cast frequently walk in a clockwise circle.

Fun Humans by the fast-rising Joseph Toonga sits at the intersection of hip-hop and contemporary dance. With it’s simple single-colour T-shirts and assorted socks, it’s certainly presents a vibrant picture. Essentially a response to the music by Boddhi Satva & Les Nubians and Michael Mikey J Asante, it plays with different movement qualities: sharpness with flow, and fast accented moments with slow-motion. I was not always convinced by the shifts. As different soloists emerge from the group, it was fascinating to see what each made of Toonga’s style. Again, many of the best moments come from the ensemble, when numbers give the dance an extra energy and power. It is a pleasing watch, although some of the more hip-hop moments didn’t always have the rawness, compactness or precision I would have expected.

Robert Clark’s Closer brings us back to the present as it explores desires to break free of the present and find a way forward. The best moments come in a solo following a monologue that asks question after question, although it was perhaps unfortunate that they couldn’t be heard properly. The dancer is then buffeted back and forth as if tossed by the words, all to the increasingly rumbling and somewhat ominous soundscape.

The first of this year’s vocational student companies to hit the road, mapdance 2021 are most definitely worth catching in what is an interesting and sometimes challenging programme, albeit one whose mood very much reflects the past year, the gorgeous AYIN apart. While that’s natural, I couldn’t help feeling it would have been good to also have had something in there that was a little lighter, more uplifting and vibrant.

Finally, top marks to mapdance and artistic directors Detta Howe and Yael Flexer for producing an excellent, informative printed programme. It just proves it can be done, even in these times.

mapdance 2021 continues on tour to the University of Plymouth (June 4), Theatre Royal Winchester (June 5), University of Chichester (June 8), Trinity Laban London (June 14) and Chichester Festival (June 17). Visit for more details.