With Enowate, though, Mbi has gone one step further and together with an impressive team of collaborators created a work that is essentially about himself and speaks of the deep impression a visit to his ancestral home of Cameroon had on this east London-raised man.
It’s a deeply personal work, which is simultaneously intriguing and frustrating.
Split into three sections, it starts with a projection on a scrim of slowly swirling white dots reminiscent of the firmament. Then Mbi, the London man emerges, in a loose brown suit and orange T-shirt. He strides the stage teasing the audience, one hand repeatedly slapping his brow. Does that gesture mean, ‘come into my head’?
Those of us who invariably get a thrill when Mbi dances hold our breath anticipating the moment when he’ll start moving with his unique combination of hip-hop and contemporary dance – willing him to do so.
No. Following a brief blackout the hazy stage is duskily lit by a battery of orange lights placed upstage at ground level. Then a figure, the nature of which is at first impossible to discern, materialises.
This central part of Enowate takes Mbi right into his ancestral culture of Cameroon, a place of animalistic rituals evoking figures such as the two-headed snake.
The figure is Mbi. Now divested of his London persona, he’s kneeling low and curled into himself, so that what we see is the top of his glistening torso, the top of his head and his arms.
He could be representing a giant tortoise; more likely an unidentifiable presence. He scuttles around the stage, followed by a milky pool of light. His arms seem to grow or shrink, sometimes graceful undulating wings, sometimes more akin to overlong limbs.
The repetition of those movements within a slow crescendo of electronic music creates a mesmerising atmosphere, but this section is far too long, its mystical, incantatory nature losing power with insistent repetition that goes nowhere.
And still we haven’t seen Mbi dance, not really.
In the final section Mbi stands apparently immersed in the universe, as the firmament projections return and his body becomes the centre of a growing sheaf of light that rises up, fans out and blends with the sky.
With a classy group of collaborators, that include composer Roger Goula, animators Nick Hillel and Adam Smith (Yeast Culture), lighting designer Lee Curran and Simon McBurney of Complicité credited as ‘mentor’, Enowate is a visually accomplished work, the mystical atmosphere of which haunts you long after you’ve walked out of Sadler’s Wells into the London night.
Its deep introspection, though, raises questions that are never answered and, as powerful as Dickson Mbi’s stage presence is, I do wish I’d seen him actually dance.
|What||Dickson Mbi, Enowate review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
14 Oct 22 – 15 Oct 22, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour no interval
|Website||Click here to book|