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FringeReview Scotland 2020

Born to Manifest

Just Us Dance Theatre

Genre: Dance, Dance and Movement Theatre, Hip hop/breakin’, Physical Theatre

Venue: Tramway Theatre


Low Down


This is a triple dance bill with the first piece – of around 10 minutes, a curtain raiser performance – bringing a local collective crew onstage from local dance crews, Goblynz, the Dimestop and AKO to perform a newly devised piece that tells us the story of outsiders and how their attempt to fit into something is thwarted by their being. Individual solo work accompanies the collective thrust of the piece from a silent beginning to a thumping middle before we return to the silent reflection of once again, one of the group being left out, excluded, jumping to get in. The solo and duo pieces of Born to Manifest are then brought to us, again in silence to start as we see Joseph Toonga solo onstage, back turned, his movement defined and restricted. As the sound scape erupts so too does the inner turmoil towards a racial stereotype that makes us uncomfortable and ill at peace. Once Dani Harris-Walters enters and the duo begins their duologue the interaction takes the form of collective bargaining and communication that shows that together, as one entity, they have strength while apart they are easily derided. We see the duo come to a place of compromise, then the young Harris-Walters becomes a solo artist descending again before as a pair they complete their piece as a duo and transform those stereotypes into an angry thrusting challenge that ends with the fist raised and the wonder realised.


HOLD ON! Let’s hear it for the young team first.

Much of the reviewing will be spent looking at the joy and inescapable abilities of their adult co presenters but the 10 minutes or so at the beginning have stayed long in my memory. With such a short time – about a month – to rehearse with Joseph Toonga and Divine Tasinda – the devised piece was never going to imagine as a polished and rhythmically perfect collective – but I liked it all the more for that. It was because there were different levels of ability, insufficient time to see the group working in complete harmony and because of their different and individual styles that they all stood out. Where my eye got drawn to one who was a little behind the beat, I followed them and saw something else; where there was one who was slightly off the mark in terms of proximity my eye caught them and I saw their individuality; and where their focus was not totally straight forward but slightly to an edge, I saw something else – a group with individuals living and breathing withing their whole. It made the message that bit more understandable. Groups do not work like homogeneous masses, they have those who are shy but cowed, those who are confident but not so in front of strangers and those who dominate hoping that someone else will replace them; they were all in front of me and made it an authentic and real experience for them that came marching towards my seat. For this young group, drawn from Goblenz, The Dimestop and AKO, numbering – Kenzie, Micah, Freya, Aisha, Maya, Niah, Robert, Erin, Kyle and Ka  – I hope there is a next stage because they did not share this stage, they owned it.

What followed may have matched it at a different level, but it was therefore set up well.

Alone, Toonga is an imposing presence. With his back to us, that diminishes not one bit. There was a point with the solo light casting shadow that, because of it being in the Tramway was very serendipitous. In an industrial warehouse where racism and the robust “tough talking “ of a time would have seen many an ethnic apprentice no doubt having their colour cast as a reason for non advancement, we had the massive shadow of Toonga projected onto the wall to the right of the audience. This is a wall where epithets and insults would have been absorbed as easily as the accepted reasoning behind throwing them. It was now cast under the shadow of the reckoning, a backdrop now, a footnote in its own future. It made me think and this was a piece designed to jolt me from a comfortable slumber.

I have no claim to any heritage other than of a white middle aged, working class male. Here I was brought into the world of what being black in the UK feels like. This is a society that likes to think of itself well but is unable to match its own arrogance of thought and I wriggled. I squirmed when both Toonga and Harris-Walters were chanting and making the noises of racial animalistic stereotypes because I think I was supposed to. The message was clear, and my response was equally without doubt. I felt ashamed and moved.

Theatrically they took my discomfort and turned to towards the means of rebellion. I became a supporter of getting that fist raised, showing the world that defiance, being part of the support network came from an exceptionally beautifully choreographed solo piece that then was enriched by the duo.

The duo took the message of despair and turned it into hope as both performers used the majesty of dance between them to spring eternally towards their light. There were set pieces that caught my eye – the visual metaphor of the tight rope, the rejection each had for the other which was subtly and aggressively fine tuned at the same time and the opening silence which was held for enough time to enhance the explosion of music and movement caught in the perfect storm – and added to the whole journey.

Theatrically there was a simplicity that seemed to say we have enough lights to make the effect, let’s not spoil it. The paucity of resource was matched by the beauty of its application and we got a sensational dance piece played out with lights and Michael “Mikey J” Asante’s brilliant soundscape that matched. I loved them and though not in anyway hip hop hot, I came away with something that may never fill a dance floor but will never shift from the protest room. It didn’t just work but matched, for me, the industrial landscape in which we found ourselves but also the white (intended) heat of a realisation that you need to have collective action to promote individual peace.

I left the Tramway uplifted and at the same time more determined to analyse and think about my own part. It is insufficient to say, I know a lot of BAME people and pretend you “understand”. Performances like this remind us that knowing and understanding are miles apart if you are not willing to listen to the uncomfortable and discomforting truth from another side. That dichotomy of challenge and entertainment, discomfort and joy and the walking away whilst walking towards is a lesson for us all; here from Goblynz, The Dimestop, AKO, Toonga, Tasinda, Harris-Walters et al we have excellent teachers.