IT has taken almost 10 years for the annual Afrovibes festival to reach the UK and as part of this year’s tour, which celebrates the work of award-winning Southern African performers, two renowned artists delivered a double bill that delved into the darker side of human nature.
Sonia Radebe’s Inception was as challenging as it was bizarre. The short solo began when Sonia crept into view with just a small headlamp alerting us to her presence. As she explored the stage with animalistic lunges, a resonating Taj Mahal Travellers score set nerves on edge.
Blending traditional African dance with experimental, at times a tad self indulgent physical theatre, Radebe attempted to take us inside a fragile woman’s consciousness. Her barely controlled movements descended into hyperventilating madness which was at times captivating, but veered dangerously close to comedy. Accomplished as Radebe is, Inception could benefit from a hefty dose of coherence.
Part two was provided by Nigerian dancer and choreographer Qudus Onikeku. The veteran artist based My Exile Is In My Head on the prison notes of Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, set to grating guitar loops and voiceovers of the original writings. Onikeku used his body to describe the stages of despair that the solitude of imprisonment causes. His gradual pulsating gave way to him kneeling on the floor before he threw himself into a series of staccato, highly stylised jolts that gave more than a nod to his past hip hop training.
Onikeku’s movement control is beyond admirable. What made My Exile special was more than just a series of impressive acrobatics. Qudus Onikeku engages an audience utterly. Parts of the celebrated solo only served to slow the piece down but Onikeku’s convincing, disturbing portrayal of a man on the brink of sanity was compelling throughout.