The extensive research behind DFS reflects in all performers’ outstanding dancing and singing skills, what’s most striking is their ability to juggle elaborate vocals and articulated gestures on pointe at the same time. By combining Jamaican dancehall with medieval polyphonies, Cecilia Bengolea and François Chaignaud create a show that is courageous and experimental, a contrast that highlights the rhythmic complexity of both styles.
This unique mash-up of different practices defines a new way of experiencing dance and music. It feels surreal sometimes, as the two styles belong to different historical and geographical backgrounds and they don’t really match, but the work is excellently performed and the overall experience is unlike any other.
Cecilia travelled for several years to Jamaica to immerse herself in its dance scene, while François, moved by a deep interest in integrating dancing with singing, explored and practised with medieval vocal polyphonies. The learning process that brought to DFS has been developed over a long time, and it can be considered as a sort of extension of The Lighters – Dancehall Polyphony, created for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in 2015, where English madrigals met with dancehall.
In DFS, Cecilia and François share the stage with three fellow contemporary dancers and two dancehall masters, in a fluid combination of expressions and virtuosity. The show opens with a long section of chants and dance phrases performed simultaneously – a challenging task that doesn’t seem to be incredibly difficult for dancers, as everything flows so naturally and smoothly. Dimly lit figures engage in complex vocal harmonies while rising on pointe, twisting, and stretching their limbs with finesse. This sense of ethereal atmosphere is often replaced by tight sequences of dancehall moves, with articulated footwork and hypnotic body isolations set to pressing rhythms.
I find particularly fascinating the use of ballet shoes for moves that are far from the classical ballet vocabulary – it isn’t rare in DFS to see passages with awkward poses, bent knees and flex feet. Erika Miyauchi is absolutely captivating to watch as she exquisitely keeps up with the restless patterns of dancehall with intense expressivity. Similarly, Craig Black Eagle and Damion BG Dancerz are a gust of freshness and fun, especially when they invite the audience to join the stage for a quick dancehall class.
There is a clear harmony within each style, but once they are combined together it feels a bit contrived and disconnected. Setting a contrast between energetic sharp movements on fast rhythms and melodic celestial songs is a weirdly wonderful attempt to go beyond the set genres and present something original, but at times DFS lacks grip and structure.
I truly admire the inclusive and audacious vibe of the piece, and I believe it should be considered as a wider picture, a transition that doesn’t stop with one work, but a research that evolves and develops over the time.
Reviewed at Sadler’s Wells on 23 April