Project O’s Voodoo is a two hour performance executed four consecutive times, mutating over the course of eight hours.
Entering the stage we are invited to ‘leave time behind’ and stow away all timekeeping devices in an envelope. A black-dressed figure escorts us to the seats, while two still figures, dressed in long white side-split trousers, are resting behind us, at the corners of the room.
Silence is pervading the dimly lit stage, the atmosphere is surreal. In front of us, a sequence of facts and dates is scrolling down on a screen made of black rectangular pillars. Political, social and cultural facts are randomly rattled off, histories that are repeatedly erased by being unspoken.
Crawling slowly towards the audience the two white-dressed figures land to the stage, hide behind the screen, and slide themselves into two white bags. Carried away like corpses, they slowly re-emerge from the end of the room.
Their dance is soft, spaced out by a rattling noise – scraps of bones in a black bin bag. Accompanied by a pressing rhythm, the action is taken to its climax by exploding a stash of white balloons, one by one.
The audience is invited to take part in this ritual, lying on the floor with eyes closed. The rhythm is beating – ‘let the music inhabit you… feel your heart beat’. We slowly rise and dance, laying down defences and creating true connection with each other. It is impossible not to feel trapped in a timeless bubble – no past, no future, just present.
Subverting the roles of performers and audience, this dance is an ode to the present. A dense experience that ends with Project O duo Jamila and Alexandrina dancing together in an exquisite chemistry that creates something unique.
This is a provoking work that intends to question critical issues of racism and misogyny and their impact on bodies, inspiring debate and pushing for conversations about how to live with agency among these painful and uncomfortable histories.
Their urgent need to examine how dance can challenge the idea of white supremacy in our society is a striking element that leaves the audience with many questions. The body is cleverly used to convey political matters and give voice to people of colour to stand out and dismantle the supremacist patriarchy.
Project O is a collaboration started in 2010 between London-based duo Alexandrina Hemsley and Jamila Johnson-Small. Defined as ‘tearing at the edges of contemporary dance’, the duo is known for works that touch intricate issues of race, gender and sexuality.
Commissioned by Sadler’s Wells. Co-commissioned by Cambridge Junction and Chelsea Theatre (2015). Supported by MDI (Merseyside Dance Initiative) with residency development and preview at LEAP 2017. Made in collaboration with Verity Susman (Sound Composition).
Read our interview with Project O’s Jamila Johnson-Small and Alexandrina Hemsley.
Reviewed by Francesca Marotto at Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis Studio on 12 May,