I f I Could Reach Home was created and performed by Magdalen Gorringe with dancers Lakshmi Srinivasan and Vidya Patel as an Akademi commission under the Choreogata scheme to develop choreographic voices. The final piece of the programme, it was the crescendo of the themes explored in the preceding items: longing, nostalgia, need for security and home. It was the choreographer’s response to the most pressing issue of our times – the flight of peoples from their homes to places of ‘security’.
The format was conventional, with a first half of classical items performed by the three dancers and additionally by student Aishani Ghosh; and a second half of devised dances set to text and spoken rhythms. The switch between two halves of formally-costumed dancers performing set dances to community dancers in leggings and T-shirts is a transition that is never completely satisfactory, but one can understand the limitations of time and budgets on the creation of a truly cohesive hour-long show.
The first half was enjoyable: the bhakti-inspired piece Vrindavani Venu, using Marathi lyrics, was charmingly set and danced by Lakshmi in light skipping steps with bharatanatyam’s stretched lines. The dancer was completely at her ease and her joy in submitting to Lord Vittal was infectious. Vidya changed the mood to sringar rasa as she evoked the heroine drawn to a midnight tryst despite the disastrous weather and the swollen river that she insists on crossing when refused by the boatman. Vidya’s skill and smoothness of execution made the dance completely self-explanatory. A tillana, created originally by Magdalen’s Guru Prakash Yaddagudde and danced by all four, concluded the first half.
The second half profiled Magdalen’s work with community groups: four 12-year-olds (All Saints Youth Project) ably conveyed their affection for a favourite object, their words amplified by gestures and punctuated by cartwheels, which gave a flow and naturalness to their performance. I Told Everyone That He Won it From a Grabbing Machine touchingly refers to a teddy bear gift from grandad, casting him as a dubious hero as we learn that he bought the teddy at a car boot sale.
No less affecting was the performance of the Rowheath Drama Workshop, which conjured images of warmth and security, told with humour and precision, with such simple and everyday feelings as ‘rainy day, guess I’ll stay in’.
This contrasted with the nerve-wracking uncertainty of the residents seeking asylum in the Hope Project. Three women dressed in simple skirts and blouses of black and red and cream and white hang washing on a line. One holds up a placard to let the audience know that the text and song are the residents’ own words and voices. Working in conjunction with a drama expert to elicit the writing, the choreographer is able to weave the words into the dance, the words becoming the dance as gesture and rhythm create a movement phrase and then join with other phrases to make a sequence, which is repeated in different formations. The first dance celebrates the nurturing power of womanhood with strong upper body movements synchronised, with repetitions creating a trance-like effect. The scents and flavours of the home left behind are evoked as Vidya, using kathak, lends an extra frisson as the showers bring out the smell of the soil in an African village. The scene of ‘waiting for that hopeful knock’ to bring a letter from the Home Office is a poignant variation on the heroine-waiting-for-the-lover theme. In the last scene, the violence that was the spur to the exile is shown, but the menace is lacking. Finally, the washing-line cloths turn out to be the faces of refugees, including the all-too-familiar baby Aylan whose washed-up body off the beach in Turkey became the face of the Syrian refugee crisis.
To convey the social and political web of entanglement responsible for the Syrian civil war is beyond the scope of dance. However, to present the viewpoint of some of those fleeing from its horror is laudable and the choreographer’s commitment to telling their stories shines through the work. The text is sensitive, poetic and musical and becomes the backbone of the drama.
Performed in a somewhat cramped corner of mac, it became symbolic of the marginalisation of dance in the community. The delineation of emotions and subtleties of expression, whether by the pre-teens of All Saints or the integrated adult Rowheath Drama Group, could have filled and multiplied in a theatre space. Since the performance, Pulse is pleased to learn that the show will be touring next spring on the Alchemy Black Country Touring circuit.