This compilation of dance, physical theatre and performance art is certainly a moving and thought-provoking watch. From the outset, I feel connected with this work due to the omnipresent themes of self-love and empowered self-expression. I find the work wholly grounding and meditative. The open conversation that takes place after each pioneering piece between the creator of the Brownton Abbey universe, Tarik Elmoutawakil, and each artist is informative and eye-opening.
Brownton Abbey is an accrescent international organisation that celebrates queer disabled people of colour and their spectacle of work. It goes without saying how important it is for minority groups to have a platform in the arts sector, but I gain a real sense of community from this watch. Brownton Abbey’s commissions all place importance on spirituality and ritualism. There is a common theme present in all the work, and this is the importance of marginalised groups having a voice and sharing their experiences. The pieces are all liberating and wholesome.
The compilation begins with Sonny Nwachukwu’s piece Re(Union). This piece takes the form of dance, mantra and physical theatre. I feel there is an elliptical value in his dance, which I interpret as a metaphorical representation of his difficulty with his stammer. It is so powerful because he transcends this struggle, mastering it and this is something potent to me as a viewer. He celebrates and loves his disability throughout. I feel the piece centres around healing and community: reuniting with all parts of oneself. His work is almost affirmative; I interpret the chant as an affirmation of his abundant self-worth and value.
The second piece, created by Malik Nashad-Sharpe is titled All I ever wanted. This piece takes the form of dance and as Malik himself puts it in the talk show conversation, it is about ‘taking up space.’ I find this entire piece provocative as it is influenced by Sharpe’s difficulties with gender dysmorphia, sexual assault and the systems of the world.
I view this work as breaking free from the metaphorical shackles. Sharpe uses dance to transmit anger and rage to the audience, and I certainly feel that through his physicality. The piece is filmed in an empty auditorium, and towards the end of the piece there is an emboldening image of Malik stood, with burning sage in his hand, looking out at the audience in a state of total emancipation.
The third piece B2B is an amalgamation of song, movement, prayer and meditation. It is created by Nima Séne, who discusses the importance of her African influence in the piece. I find this work particularly grounding and calming. It is largely meditative, and she even says herself that audiences could watch it a second time with their eyes closed to just be wholly present within the music. Sound is paramount to this piece and there is an ethereal quality evoked through the use of the song and music; one that invites serenity, love and connection with oneself. In discussion with Séne after the work is spectacled, Elmoutawakil comments on how it could even be described as ASMR.
The final work commissioned for this project is Lasana Shabaz’s soliloquy Where am I from. I use the word soliloquy as I believe this work is Shabaz’s inner thoughts and anger towards his treatment surrounding the context of self-identity. As soon as the piece begins, I am fixated by his beautiful costume, which is inspired by his Mayan heritage. To me, this piece is about pride and resilience; it is an exploration and celebration of difference.
Brownton Abbey: Talk Show is playing Online until 29 August 2021. For more information and tickets, see The Edinburgh Fringe website.