Dickson Mbi, Enowate, Sadler’s Wells

Posted: January 1st, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Dickson Mbi, Enowate, Sadler’s Wells

Dickson Mbi, Enowate, Sadler’s Wells, October 14, 2022

Enowate, Dickson Mbi
Dickson Mbi in Enowate (photo: Nick Thornton Jones and Warren Du Perez)

Dickson Mbi’s solo performance, Enowate, is an intense autobiographical exploration, beginning with his carefree soccer dreams and cockiness before diving into his genealogy — Enowate is his Cameroonian name. This is not the kind of material one might expect of such an outgoing, well-known and much respected hip hop performer; the dark body of Enowate sees Mbi toying with his ancestral roots, the animism of his culture of origin, and what they reveal about his dual identity. He is like an artist laying down thick paint on a canvas without quite knowing what the finished effect will be. As a dancer Mbi naturally uses his body to mark his brush strokes, painting time slowly; his muscular form of choreographic transmutation is in no hurry to evolve. In one hour of performance he takes us through a lifetime of exploration. 

From the cockiness and cheek of the opening sequences we lose sight of the Mbi we know; Lee Curran’s stage is bathed in darkness with beams of vertical light like a striated curtain through which we can make out the animalistic forms Mbi creates, fantastic beings that inhabit his imagination. Roger Goula’s swirling, growling score, featuring heartbeat and Mbi’s voice and breath, adds an aural density to Mbi’s imagination, as if emanating directly from inside his searching mind. Mbi does not hold our hand on this deeply personal journey but we follow him because we trust he will emerge out of these existential ruminations to reveal a new sense of self. 

But it is at the very moment of his emergence into the light that Mbi defers to theatrical effect rather than to the integrity of a choreographic resolution. Having articulated his journey up to now in sinuously expressive forms that cling to the earth, he suddenly appears behind a scrim in a flourish of animation that merges his being with a firmament of stars. Caught in a sophisticated web of projections that merely point to what he had experienced, our attention is drawn away from him; he has found the light but has left us in the dark. When just as suddenly he is released from the stellar projections and we see him standing on the stage in his finely chiselled but wearied form, we are at once relieved but ignorant of how he got there. 

In the post-show discussion with Alastair Spalding, Mbi revealed he had been dissatisfied with a previous ending of the show and had sought the advice of his producer and artistic consultant, Farooq Choudry, which goes some way to explaining why this graphical display at the end of Enowate appears to have travelled directly from an Akram Khan production. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Yeast Culture’s (Nick HIllel and Adam Smith) graphics: they are well designed and beautifully projected. They just don’t belong here. Mbi is too genuine an artist to need such a second-hand resolution to his personal choreographic journey; its resolution can only be found somewhere deep within himself amongst the wealth of material he has gathered along the way. In talking with Spalding, Mbi revealed the confluence of events that produced his latest show: at the same time he was pulling together its final elements he experienced fatherhood for the first time. It was just the kind of protean state he might have channelled in choreographic form at the end of Enowate