Following on from the successful Culture and Mobility Seminar, hosted at the University of Portsmouth by the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, Journeys Festival International in collaboration with New Theatre Royal and the Aakash Odedra Company, hosted a performance of #JeSuis (in progress).
#JeSuis is a high intensity, moving and thought provoking 45 minute dance performance, that forces you to consider the bleak, deprived, and desperate reality that many people face, but the rest of the world often chooses to ignore.
Six characters sit in a dark room, listening to an old radio which blares out news reports of war, violence and oppression, a familiar, but ultimately terrifying sound. A seventh character enters, crawling and writhing along the floor in an inhuman, and sinister manner, it is clear we have met our antagonist.
As #JeSuis progresses, we see the movements become increasingly violent, as the desperation rises, each time the characters try to speak, or escape, they get just close enough to keep the hope alive, before being dragged back. That feeling of dying hope is not just true of the characters, but for the audience, who are willing them to keep fighting, to speak, to win.
The performance features a small amount of spoken word, both in Turkish and in English, but for the majority of the performance, the dancers allow their bodies to do the talking. Dance has no language, movement has no barriers, and through choreography the dancers are able to convey a message more clearly, and beautifully than any speech ever could.
The sheer amount of raw emotion that the dancers show in even the smallest of movements, is nothing short of stunning, the incredible talent of choreographer, Aakash Odedra, and his dancers shines through, and it would be impossible to dismiss the beauty of the performance.
One of the most unsettling scenes sees our antagonist begin to wrap the female dancers in cling film, slowly silencing their voices, and their bodies; to watch is as uncomfortable as it is mesmerising, and as the cling film reaches their faces, covering their mouth and nose, cutting off their ability to speak, protest, and breathe, we feel a genuine sense of fear for their safety.
That feeling of fear and discomfort only adds to the performance, and even as the cling film is peeled away, and the women can breathe again, the unsettling feeling remains, because though the cling film as a metaphor for their oppression is not particularly subtle, it is remarkably powerful.
Each dancer performs brilliantly, and beautifully in their own right, throughout the performance you can see their personalities develop, and you root for them, you want them to succeed, you don’t see them as victims, as immigrants, as foreigners, as the media often has you believe, you see them as people, each with their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and personality.
The antagonist performs particularly well, from the very first moment we meet him, he projects an aura of authority and doom, his movements are strong and violent, a stunning contrast with the soft, often cautious movements of the other dancers. Throughout he remains the looming, omniscient figure, carefully watching over his prey, making a game out of their misery.
If #JeSuis could be described in one word, it would be beautiful, not in the sense that it is particularly pretty, or easy to watch, often it is just the opposite, but it is undeniable that Aakash Odedra has crafted something truly stunning; his ability to create such a powerful message without words is a testament to his experience, and talent.
Given the power that the current performance possesses, it seems impossible to imagine how Aakash will be able to develop the already polished performance any further, but with every atrocity brings more that needs to be said, a new voice to be heard, a story to be told, justice to be had, and in our current world where these tragedies seem to be happening more and more frequently, perhaps it is harder to imagine that this performance will ever truly be completed.
Review by Katie Clarke
UoP Media Studies student
(on placement as CCI Faculty Promotions Assistant)