The two shows I see at Fierce Festival 2017 are crammed full of people and sweat and noise. It seems so many people are gathered to see live performance take place, only to be swallowed back into the city moments later. One of the first performances of the festival is i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere created by Last Yearz Interesting Negro; Jamila Johnson-Small’s solo project. Johnson-Small’s work is sensitive and transient. There is so much to say about her delicacy with form, her playfulness, her reflections.
Before this review continues, I want to make it clear that I’m not sure I have a foothold here. I’m a cis white woman. I do not want to take this story as my own to analyse; I can’t. I can attempt to observe through a lens of critic, and reflect the show back to you. I have to ask what gives me the right to enter this space, and comment on it. I write this from a place of ignorance and of privilege. I also write this from a place of admiration, and of wanting to learn, to be educated. I don’t think that was the intention of the show, but I wanted to preface with that, because it is important to not claim space where it is not yours to be claimed.
At first glance, Johnson-Small’s show is inward-looking. It is an introspective rhythm blasted onto a floor to ceiling projection screen. The dance is methodical, but not rigid. She is loose, free, and she struts. After a while, there is almost a desperate need to see her dance in front of us instead of on the screen. We must see her realness bared before us, rather than in pixels.
When she does emerge, it is soulful and quiet. A spotlight flickers and begins to strobe.
Soon, she is joined by four further dancers. They plod and bounce in methodical repetition. They never lose focus, but they also look comfortable up there. Then it returns to just Johnson-Small. We repeat this. She moves into and around the audience, over and through her set of large tyres and sculptures. Later (not sure how much later, as time seems to morph and fade in this piece) we are asked to join Johnson-Small on stage, and sit on leather cushions, and cover our eyes with animal eye masks, and observe, and be observed.
In the Radio Four show, ‘Lines of Resistance’, Bridget Minamore talks to Octavia, a group that provides a space for women of colour to share and write poetry. In the show, they talk about how publishers are not interested in the work unless they are talking about ‘the black experience’ or ‘the Muslim experience’. If they want to just talk about the grass, they need to find different spaces to publish that work.
When I listened to that, I thought of Johnson-Small’s show. It was about grief. A subtle, gracefully outlined coping mechanism that we were only allowed into in a very brief and gentle moment towards the end. Perhaps, for her, it was safer to not let us in. And it is important to see this work as separate from her identity, but also to see it as woven within her identity. I think.
Even if the performance felt difficult to enter and understand, it left a stain on my heart. As a writer words in a particular order can make me cry, but with this it was the sound, the energy, the transgression.
i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere was performed as part of Fierce Festival 2017. Click here for more details.