ZOO Southside, Edinburgh
Barrowland Ballet’s Whiteout comes from the personal experiences of artistic director Natasha Gilmore, which may go some way to explaining the work’s overall affectionate tone. While the show explores some of the difficulties of interracial relationships, Whiteout is a generally benign, even cuddly affirmation of diversity.
The show opens with the dancers struggling under their hoods. Jerking and rolling across the floor, they rail against something, perhaps their very identity. Such anger and frustration is channelled throughout the piece; a particularly strong moment is its exploration of cultural appropriation. Different tracks come on, to which the dancers respond differently. One dancer’s awkwardness while her peers surround her, dancing to African music, clashes against her then happy involvement in twerking. This subsuming of certain aspects of black culture into white causes one dancer to crack, and he uncontrollably judders and shouts across the stage.
These frustrated moments are precisely that, however. They don’t delve into the troubling aspects of its subject matter too deeply. Whiteout consists of separate sketches of its theme, rather than delineating one clear thread or narrative throughout. Halfway through, blank screens are wheeled across the stage, and videos of happy interracial couples and their children come up on screen. It feels a bit like a Dove commercial and is momentarily jarring in its contrast to other parts of the piece although adults trying to copy children dancing remains affecting and entertaining. The use of screens becomes a bit more interesting when they are separated across the stage and the dancers come back on: a nice interplay between live and recorded dancing unfolds.
With such sporadic choreography, the dancers of Barrowland Ballet are impressively versatile. Given the company’s title, one might expect classically trained dancers doing more contemporary movement. Mostly, however, there is a strong influence of street dance, pulling the work into an urban environment. The crossover with breaking and contemporary floorwork proves a nice unifying force between the different styles. The dancers morph into smoother, lighter movement, dabble with vogueing and cross into traditional African dance.
The dancers also excel in their duets, weaving in and out of their heterosexual pairings, playing with distance and intimacy. While some of the movement is not always inspiring (reaching arms, encircling hugs), the duets have a braveness in how the women also lift and twirl their male partners. Each duet has a distinct character and narrative to allow some identification on the audience’s part.
The music is fairly constant throughout, with a few moments of breathing space wherein the dancers sing or use their own bodies as instruments. The soundscape slightly over relies on synthesizers, but some of the edgier, throbbing tracks sweep the audience up and push the dancers on.
Upon leaving, the auditorium felt buzzing and enthusiastic; the dynamism of the dancers and Whiteout’s positive message proved infectious. Whiteout is nonetheless slightly scattered, and doesn’t quite deliver an interrogation of, or worry away at some of the more pressing issues it addresses.