An outdoor show, in England, is always a risk, even in July. Thankfully, the weather this summer has been exceptional and the sun was still shining as we headed off to the iconic landmark of the Tower of London.
As part of the 2018 LIFT Festival, East Wall has seen a 4 year collaboration between East London Dance, Hofesh Shechter, Historic Royal palaces and LIFT, bringing together 150 dancers, 4 choreographers, Irish guards, an a cappella group and a range of musicians, working collectively to narrate the history and communities that surround the Tower of London.
We sat in seats in the moat. We’d been given coloured wrist-bands that corresponded to specific seating areas but we didn’t have numbered seats so we got there quite early so we could sit together. It was quite fun watching people slyly move from the green wristband areas to the ‘better’ red areas (rolling down their sleeves on the way). We didn’t mind. Sitting at the edge gave us a great perspective of the long stage, and we could see the Guards as they prepared to parade in.
The drums began to beat sending a wave of silence over the spectators whilst the cellist’s repetition of a single note cued in the Irish Guards. As they marched towards the stage we wondered how they would get on through the lighting rig. Clever spacing allowed them to pass seamlessly through as they held formation to open (and close) the show.
Broken into five sections Joseph Toonga’s artistic direction began with Big Deal Dance and Just Us Collective. Performers dressed in conflicting costumes filled the stage with a contemporary hip hop style, dispersing from their original groups in an attempt to gain control of the free spaces around them.
Next up was James Finnmore featuring Incognito Dance Company & Shift Dance company. Using a queen like figure as the protagonist of the piece the other dancers reacted to her movements, parting as she walked and supporting her as she fell. As the piece continued the movements of the supporting dancers become more aggressive as they nodded their heads sharply, keeping their eyes locked on the women. With this sudden change of mood it started to raise questions of who this women was. Was she a respected queen or was she a dictator of her people?
Focused on the communities around the tower, Dauane Taylors piece, featuring One Youth Dance & the University of East London Dance Collective, created a confrontational mood from the start. As performers stormed the stage, shouting at the audience, their aggressive movements seemed to indicate a struggle for power reminiscent of the 1381 peasant revolt which saw lower class rebels capture the Tower.
Becky Namgauds piece featured three dance groups; Cando2 youth dance company, Elevate dance company and One youth Dance company. Her narrative seemed to focus on a central couple with the surrounding performers creating the landscapes of their separation. Forming mountains and a human wave the young man is carried away to his death, like a captured soul, destined for the Tower.
The final piece, by Hofesh Shechter, featuring Shechter II, created comical madness. The dancers imitated court jesters with their playful and clumsy movements, until they turned on each other, moving the tone from playful to violent. As each performer shoots, stabs and kills they are reborn, rising to their feet to continue the onslaught; perhaps attempting to capture the madness and gruesome history of the iconic backdrop that surrounded tonight’s performance.
After a night of beautifully choreographed dance, live music and an a cappella rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity the performance drew to its spectacular finale, choreographed by Hofesh Shechter.
Showcasing all 150 dancers, musicians, singers and Irish Guards on stage a symphony of sound and harmonious dance filled the air and bounced off the battlements.
The performance at East Wall is definitely one of my favourite Cog Nights. From start to finish the whole experience was thrilling and energetic. The icing on the cake being the spectacular back drop of the Tower of London. If I could I’d go again.