Nora Dennis Reviews ‘The Next Phase’ Currently Showing @ Blue Elephant Theatre

the_next_phaseIt’s easy to forget that there are lives and experiences outside our own. We watch vicariously and revel in the happenings of others but prefer to do so from a distance. We would rather not look too closely. Friday evening at the Blue Elephant Theatre was an event I could vaguely summarise as ‘close’.

Sat front row in a 50 person capacity space the word close would also apply literally. Pitch black and bare the stage stood empty waiting to be occupied. Rikki ‘Rik The Most’ Livermore, our host, entered the stage and the small buzz of chatter dimmed with the lights that then lit back up to refocus a spotlight on centre stage.

‘Are we feeling good?’ he asks.
‘Always!’ – this and ‘Today is a good day’ became the two chosen mantras, repeated throughout the evening. At times it was used to centre the audience attention, other times to lighten the atmosphere after what would have been an intense performance.

Rik The Most opened up with his performed poetry. It featured movement in unison with fast-paced lyrics and an overall personable delivery; ultimately setting the tone for what was to follow – the next phase of events.
The first of the acts, a dancing trio aptly named Afro Jazz Ensemble, appeared onstage moving entangled in harmony like waves. The room had been pitch black before they materialised filling the prop-less stage with vibrancy and raw energy. Entangling the viewers, also, in their soulful motions. I apply ‘aptly’ because the Afro Jazz Ensemble dancers emulated choreography traditionally associated to African and Caribbean cultures, fused with jazz technique all wrapped in a contemporary bow. The level of skill between the dancers differed slightly, an aspect that was apparent during their segment; later I learned new members had been added to the collective in recent times.

Next to fill the space was young spoken word artist,Yomi ‘GREEdS’ Sode. Introducing himself to the crowd, he came across as bubbly with an easy-going air about him. The poem ‘Late Bloomer’ equally begins in the same note before moving into much heavier territory. GREEdS performed three of his pieces, each uncomfortably honest and starkly vulnerable. He tells his stories and the audience, as if sat around a campfire, lean in with every short pause. In such an environment as this (an intimate layout) there is very little escape for the performer and with all the eyes watching, I look for how an act might respond to that level of concentrated attention. He looks back – looks directly into the crowd with little hesitation. His pieces cover depression, cross-continental issues and adolescence with all its complexities. When closing, GREEdS returns to his earlier easy-going manner and signs off to a healthy applause.

Linah and Conner, a musical act, follow up. The audience is informed that the guitarist, Conner, already has an EP out and Linah (vocalist) is currently in the midst of releasing her own. Linah Nambooze’s credits include supporting Anthony Hamilton at the Indigo2; an experienced and “looking-the-part” artist, one can’t help but be surprised when she introduces their act in her quirky and off-beat fashion. Her stage presence is cheerful and contagious, and judging from the laughter rippling through audience, it’s fair to deduce that I weren’t the only person who thought so. Their set of original music had a smooth and yet indie/alternative feel. Linah’s soft tones over Conner’s acoustic sounds impressively played on an electric guitar, lent a very homegrown quality to their music. Raw, although not alienating, and by the end of their act they had a significant part of the audience singing along, many of whom were first-time listeners.

The Next Phase @ Blue Elephant Theatre. Photo credit: Aluette Vega Ruiz

The Next Phase @ Blue Elephant Theatre. Photo credit: Aluette Vega Ruiz

Intermission allowed some time to digest the assortment of art just observed. In the casual setting of the bar audience members and performers mixed and openly shared ideas and interpretations. Back in for the last act now, we find the formally bare space disrupted by two single mattresses on the floor.

‘Penny’ by Andrea Queens, the Artistic Director of AQ Arts and owner of a notable list of acknowledgements for her dancing, vocal and writing abilities (including London 2012 Olympics and the BBC). The first to see this version of ‘Penny’, the audience were present to an exclusive; our host additionally revealed that the cast had only had nine days to rehearse.

Opening with four people stood in a row, all acting out what seems to be flipping a coin for the odds, again and again. This escalates gradually into dance, paired with the dominant sounds made by two of the performers. No words just sound and movement. It becomes apparent that what we are looking at is a family made of two parents and two children. There is rhythm to the sounds they make, however the rhythm becomes disjointed when tragedy occurs and the audience are then taken along a journey as the surviving members learn to find a language for their grief.

Daniel Limbaya, Ella Mesma, Simone Foster and Lula Mebrahtu do a wonderful job in expressing a multitude of emotions while performing poetry in motion. ‘Penny’ was originally inspired by a story Queens had heard while in New York, about a child who dies when out begging. Queens reports that the story stood out to her because the mother kept her daughter’s body in their apartment for some days before laying her to rest. The exploration of mourning and the uniqueness of it was what Queens hoped to translate through Penny. During the Q&A session the performers communicated how the piece had been personally challenging. Some rehearsals had been tearful when having to embody loss stepped too close to home. Queens also revealed that piece will go through some changes as they continue to perform and simultaneously smooth out the rougher edges as they go.

The evening was packed with music, movement and poetry in a setting that allowed one to experience it all up close. The Next Phase was a completely sold out event, proving that the little theatre in Camberwell has vast chasm of talent to showcase and is ready to be recognised on the dance map.

Find out more about the event and artists:

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