Choreography by Tony Adigun, text by Maxwell Golden
Tony Adigun’s Avant Garde Dance
This isn’t Dickens’s Oliver Twist—though names and situation are inspired by his novel. This Fagin may also run den of thieves, but his story, as imagined by Tony Adigun, is very different.
It is told mainly in dance with some spoken dialogue (by Maxwell Golden), which makes the plot clearer, and it is exciting dance that blends hip hop and contemporary styles to present some spectacular street-dance acrobatics.
It opens with a prologue in which members of Avant Garde Dance’s Elves and Youth companies join their professional dancers to present a bunch of Victorian street kids in contrast with well-off, greed-driven, top-hatted, toffs and, if I understood it aright, the poor see the way to improve their condition as through thieving.
A character who introduces himself as the Artful Dodger then takes up Fagin’s story. We see Fagin and Bill Sykes as lads in the workhouse where they are kept busy and left hungry, all graphically staged in dance form, until Fagin devises a plan to break out and make their own way in the world.
When they are out, Fagin finds an abandoned building to make their gaff while Sykes finds himself a girlfriend (Nancy) and they collect a group of other light-fingered fellows who accept Fagin as their leader.
Oliver Twist doesn’t turn up until the end of the first act but he takes over the second act. While Nancy may see him as a lost little lad, he’s a sharp schemer. His pickpocketing may not be perfect but he’s an unscrupulous opportunist who aims to be top dog.
Yann Seabra’s setting presents a wooden wall that splits into sections on boat-trucks that make up the workhouse dormitories and passageways and become Fagin’s headquarters. Their movement becomes part of Tony Adigun’s hard-edged choreography.
The sharp angles and dodging and diving of the dance mirror the comradeship and the tensions of the young gang. The dance explodes with its energy. The score by Seymour Milton and Benji Bower is relentless, its industrial pounding developing brooding bass lines. Jackie Shemesh’s dramatic lighting concentrates attention, creates sudden changes, always atmospheric. Watches swinging on gold chains start as a dream then become a symbol of wealth and authority, one becoming a key part in the plot’s twists of disloyalty and death.
Aaron Nuttall is a strong Dodger, both as narrator and dancer, Stefano A Addae a tough-looking Bill Sykes with a soft side, Ellis Saul a kind-hearted Nancy and Sia Gbamoi an Oliver who may seem insecure but is soon seen to be scheming.
Bodies somersault and spin over tables, hip hop acrobatics become balletic, yellow handkerchiefs a repeated motif, filched from a pocket or cast in the air. Fagin and Bill face out each other, Oliver plays along Nancy as they weave round a table, there’s a clever trio as a sinuous Oliver comes between Bill and Nancy but it is Arran Green’s Fagin who stands out.
It isn’t just that Green is taller; he’s a great mover. Though he doesn’t have the vocal skills to make an overlong spoken soliloquy work, he dances like dynamite, a stunning performance in a show that showcases a company full of dazzling dancers.
Using text helps tell the story but it is the weakest part of this production, not on the same level as the bold choreography which provides excitement and interest and shows off the effectiveness of the training that Avant Garde Dance provides for its members for the finish. Precision is there right from the opening sequence to the final moments with the figure of Oliver with his gold watch silhouetted on the skyline.