Table Manners by Avant Garde Dance
Hat Fair, Winchester [01.07.17]
*Review produced as part of Hat Fair Young Critics
A couple are sitting in a restaurant. We are aware that something needs to be said and that there is both a reluctance and awkwardness about this unspoken segment. A waiter is a third wheel, ever so keen to lose the tricycle scenario and form a bicycle with the woman in pink. We have a triangle upon us. Drinks are poured aplenty. Polite table politics soon become disembodied into questioning and exploring relationship dynamics and cultural shifts. Manners aren’t always in need of minding.
Table Manners is an energised, honest and compelling piece of dance that encourages us to reflect on the habitual behaviours that surround food and mealtimes and, how such behaviours can be reflected within our wider world relationships and our feelings towards ourselves. This is a work of dance-theatre that transcends the boundaries of the audience being mere observers and invites us into a space that is constantly transforming and changing its rules of etiquette. From Brexit banter to self-service checkout debuts, this is a world in which what happens physically and what is said can both complement and defy each other simultaneously.
What is quite captivating about Tony Adigun’s choreography is the importance of moments in their many shapes and the silent discussion that they introduce and manipulate through movement and occasional break off interactions with audience members. It is not often that dance theatre welcomes audiences to partake in the world and still be exposed to the same level of powerful dance performance almost in their lap. Performers Duwane Taylor, Julie Minaai and Sasha Shadid are attentive to audience participants and invite them to live in the world in a shared, intimate environment.
Dance theatre provides a platform to open dialogue and make reference to societal situations that are avoided, sidelined or misunderstood. Through movement, music and pockets of language, Table Manners invites us to acknowledge the harsh reality of colonialism and how it is still able to rampantly white wash experiences. We see Julie eating Chinese take away with a piece of East Asian music playing in the background. This is soon drowned out by the blaring of Rule Britannia overhead. This was a striking and powerful moment that truly laid bare the reality of how even eating a meal has become a specimen for British modification. This moment was visually striking and poignant and reminded me of Seeta Patel’s brilliant dance piece, Not Today’s Yesterday.
Speaking of captivating moments, watching Duwane and Sasha frantically nestle clementines in the folds and cuppings that Julie creates with her body is rather beautiful. Given that citrus fruits symbolise good fortune for a new year within Chinese culture, it is interesting that Julie’s two love rivals wish to inundate her with an overflowing gifting of clementines, which by the end of her ordeal she no longer wants. Sometimes we’re placed into situations where we are given a lot and expected to want and be grateful for what we have been presented with but, this removes a sense of freedom and agency around what happens to us. This is a moment that allows us to reflect on choice focused moments in our lives. It is quite unlike anything I have seen in dance theatre before and for that reason, it will certainly hold a place in my memory for ways to welcome an emotional response in an unconventional and unique manner.
Verdict: Table Manners is a welcome party to a platter of behaviour patterns surrounding food and human relationships. The strength of cultural reference points juxtaposed against the pastel costume palette allows for us to focus on the multiple narratives at play whilst appreciating the visual synergy of complimentary colours and off the chain physicality. Avant Garde Dance are a company I look forward to seeing much more of.