Akeim Toussaint Buck and guests bring fresh perspectives, styles and forms to audiences which delight and inspire while calling out for social change. Starting 2022 on an optimistic footing for dance and performance that centres on the work of black artists from the African diaspora, interdisciplinary performer and choreographer Toussaint Buck curates a spectacularly rich programme at the Lilian Baylis with his Wild Card Radical Visions.
Presenting his own film Displaced, a cinematic version of his solo dance theatre show ‘Windows of Displacement’ alongside a solo by Alethia Antonia and a quartet by Fubunation, the evening includes live music by the dazzling Radical Visions house band and spoken word by guest poets. Each artist’s narrative, whether performed as movement, music or poetry outlines their radical visions for what the world might look like, a place in which negative, scarring experiences of diasporic black identity are healed and transformed into positive lived realities.
The evening celebrates African ancestry, creativity and spirituality while reminding us about everything that was taken away by colonisation, capitalism and patriarchy. Each of the three performances seen in the theatre are journeys through pain, trauma and marginalisation as artists search for and discover the potency of their diasporic identity. Not afraid to delve into difficult emotional terrain, or make it too comfortable for us white members of the audience, Radical Visions also nourishes the soul with its portrayals of affective joy within diasporic communities and glimmers of hope that change can happen.
Alethia Antonia in her solo Inscribed in “Me” shoulders the burden of the personal, collective and historical trauma of Black womxn. Standing on a box, crouched over, head down, she repeatedly attempts to unfurl her body to upright but keeps collapsing. She looks crushed. Her face concealed by a net mask and body shrouded in a black dress are shaded further by dim lighting. While her struggling, gasping movements are almost shocking to witness, they also hint at the stealthy power, coiled up inside her body. Finally, she gathers her energy, building momentum to courageously spring off the box in a process of healing and self-authorship. Opening the container and discarding its contents of memories, she sheds the layers of pain as she changes into work clothes and finds her voice. Using newfound tools to embrace her force and identity she catapults herself into larger movements that take up more space; spiralling around the box with athletic prowess, she performs an extraordinary ritual of self-acceptance.
You could cut the dense and menacing atmosphere of Fubunation’s Black Is…., choreographed by Rhys Dennis and Waddah Sinada, with a knife. Performed by Dennis and Sinada together with Rose Sall Sao and Mayowa Ogunnaike, the four are mesmerising to watch as they cling to each other, stepping rhythmically in tight formation. With heads stooped and upper bodies hunched, they travel cautiously across hostile terrain. Their dance of fear and anxiety moves their bodies into repetitive slow rises and hollow sinking, but they are alert and prepared. Feeding off the collective support of the group, they surf over each other’s bodies, creating energy that makes them bolder and more adventurous; breaking out, performing thrilling duets of lifts and jumps, each dancer asserting a unique personality. Taking strength from their collective histories and outsider statuses, they regroup once again but this time to stare defiantly out at the audience.
Toussaint Buck and Ashley Karell’s film Displaced is an epic monologue divided into 10 chapters. During the interval which precedes the film, there’s an opportunity to see Toussaint Buck dance live as he introduces each of the spoken word poets. As these young, charismatic shamans (Lateshia Howell, Kai Larasi and Tatenda Naomi Matsvai) deliver their radical visions, calling on their ancestral spirits, Toussaint Buck’s responsive and electrifying improvisations charge the space further and give us a taste of what’s to come.
Toussaint Buck narrates his own multiple radical visions in Displaced and amplifies, as a Jamaican born British raised man, the personal and collective feelings of not belonging. Filmed on location in and around Leeds and London, he recontextualises movement scenes from his theatre show on an empty British beach, a park, an inner-city laundrette and supermarket. Beautifully filmed and framed by Karrell, the film captures Toussaint Buck’s multiple skills as a mover, (drawing on his understanding of contemporary, hip hop and African dance), prophet, story-teller and activist. He travels through each chapter searching for solutions and healing, identifying in verse and movement the causes of black pain – racism, imperialism and capitalism. But he moves beyond feelings of displacement and victimhood, finding cause for optimism and hope in the survival of diasporic people and the communities they form. In these scenes which seem to radiate with love and joy, friends, colleagues and family members assemble, often in a church, making music together. His stories connect with both the living and the dead and a striking image, which illustrates the importance of heritage, is that of Toussaint Buck walking in the (cold, British) sea. Here striding out towards the horizon, his naked upper body and face painted in white stripes, he honours the spirits of his African ancestors.
Displaced is a plea for global action, for understanding, for allyship. It’s a powerful reminder to hear, respect and honour diasporic communities. As a white woman I’m enlightened and enthralled, appreciative of the performers’ generosity and expertise, as well as feeling my white shame. A final ceremony, led by the impressive MC Muti Musafiri concludes the evening caringly, asking us to share our radical visions. Mine, while maybe not so radical, hopes for many more evenings like this.