Not knowing what to expect from the pre-show performance we got a bit more than we bargained for, as we enter Okwui Okpokwasili is stood back to the audience in a corner. Not an outright twerk but twerking with precision moving her buttock muscles rhythmically for a whole fifteen minutes as people enter to be seated. The New York born performer calls this her “twerking gone wrong”, one by one the audience realise that the performance has started, she is vibrating, shaking, twerking without the whole outright dance, to a two-note organ which adds a somewhat hypnotic element. Soon all eyes are focused on her buttocks, she breaks sweat wearing a brown halter neck dress bare feet, a tall striking figure. As the music picks up pace her hands join her dancing buttocks performing a defiant dance. Is she having a fight with someone? She swings round to face the audience.
Using dance, song and spoken word, Okwui narrates the story, of two black girls who share their sexual awakening growing up in the Bronx. The conversation is an exploration of black beauty ideals and notions of womanhood. The language is extremely graphic as she talks about sex. Using sheets of paper that represent the letters between the two girls Okwui reads under a light which can at times look like a mic as she reads from the large pile of paper she discards each sheet to the floor. The set is perfect for this dance piece, light and airy, white draped curtains surround the stage while old lamp shades and dried flowers which have fallen out of their pots adorn the floor creating that “gothic” look. It looks like the left overs from a vintage wedding shoot, it is staged but it works. Dance forms are mixed a few movements might have their roots in African dance, and ballet. A hypnotic piece of dance theatre that allows you to draw your own conclusions, inspired by West African griot storytelling to ask what it means to be brown in a world that values whiteness, she talks about boys, sexual experience and lack of it, and female friendship but it is not really in your face; it just adds to the rhythm of this solo show. At the end of the 1 hour 20mins you want a little more.
Bronx Gothic is at the Young Vic until 29th June.
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