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Vigour – Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds

Director/Choreographer: Keisha Grant

Visual Artist: Heidi Luker

Reviewer: Katie Lee


Vigour is the current touring production by Keneish Dance, a triple bill of African Contemporary dance performed by an entirely female cast. The programme draws its influences from African – Caribbean cultures and explores the human condition, investigating what it means to be a woman.

The first piece, It’s Like Thorn In My Side is based around a sculpture by artist, Heidi Luker. This prop is used as a womb-like symbol, with a long ribbon extending to evoke an umbilical cord bond between the sculpture and dancers. The performers emerge one by one in earthy costume to present a dynamic performance with pulses of activity. The work is choreographed and lit to create focus points, using the whole stage in its movement of the sculpture and its ribbon. A strong chorus section towards the end creates a climax, with synchronicity breaking down in parts to ensure interest and variety. Almost balletic upright twists and turns compliment a change in music, giving a sense of awakening in the group as they writhe together.

After a short interval the dancers take the stage to a soundtrack reminiscent of rainfall for the second piece, All Seeing. A spot lit solo begins, with the circular light constraining the performer’s jerky, erratic movements. In the opposite corner another solo begins, with the two dancers escaping their spots to perform a duet of opposites as the music lifts. Previously with their backs predominantly towards the audience, the performers turn to face them and begin to develop a partnership, accompanied by birdsong and a single lift. This section is influenced by the sculpture of a Zimbabwean artist, Albert Manvura, and is entirely circular, with the action returning to separate zones at the conclusion.

Finally, Tit 4 Tat concludes the triple bill with a contrasting element of fun. The first section is performed in silence, before a heavy beat drops, catching the audience unaware. This finale encompasses more straightforward contemporary choreography, opposing the almost primal, instinctive movements from the previous pieces. The feeling of being a teenager is evoked by battles, laughing, running and arguing, with partner work emphasising how we use body language to communicate. It is joyful, fast and consistently paced and eventually set to the only music with vocals in the whole evening.

This show is entrancing, with the strength and beauty of the dancers creating an engrossing expression of femininity in its most powerful form. The cast is inspiring in a way that classical dancers are not, with zero need for a male lead to exceed expectations.

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