Akeim Toussiant Buck and Crystal Zillwood: Souls and Cells

The Place, London
September 25, 2023

To quote from the programme notes, “Souls and Cells is a poetic duet between two contemporary dance artists…” The two dancers, Akeim Toussiant Buck and Crystal Zillwood created the piece together, which they tell us is about their respective heritages and an invocation of maternal ancestors and land that weaves together stories, song and ritual.

Unfortunately, it communicated none of those things to me. Buck and Zillwood spent most of the 45 running and crawling around the stage. This was punctuated by great deal of repeated upper body and arm movements, which, to begin with, were engaging and bore the promise of something more to come but, ended-up being tiresome due to their continuous repetition.

There were tantalising moments when the dancers actually danced, but sadly, these moments were fleeting. That was unfortunate because Buck and Zillwood are clearly both accomplished dancers, and while Souls and Cells failed to engage me in its intended invocation, both clearly have talent and potential. Buck especially is a very strong performer, and it would be exciting to see him tackle more interesting and complex choreography.

Despite the lack of choreographic content, the couple created an intimate relationship. One sequence of coming together and drawing apart, without ever touching, was surprisingly compelling.

The music, composed by Otis Jones, is haunting and ritualistic, with evocative chanting and rhythmic drumming that lends an almost meditative feel to the piece. The literally black box set and evocative lighting produced a scene that was so dim that at times the dancers disappeared. But perhaps that was intended.