Review: Sir Pe Talwar, HOME Manchester

Sir Pe Talwar plays as part of Horizons Festival which arrives at HOME for International Refugee week – a week-long celebration of international arts and global culture. This vibrant production of Sir Pe Talwar (the literal meaning of which is ‘sword above my head’) poignantly delivers an extraordinary story through a fusion of music and dance.

The show follows Fiza (performed by herself), an exuberant and vivacious young woman whose life spirals into a nightmare when she is forced into marriage at age 17. The performance seamlessly moves between several different sections, some moments showing her intense love of dance, and other moments depicting the trepidation with which she endures celebrations of a union against her will. Fiza balances all of these different dimensions effortlessly which come together to tell a story of her courage.

The power of this piece comes from the fact that throughout the show there is a sense of encroaching danger. Fiza switches from evoking jubilance and excitement to trepidation and apprehension with incredibly sharp timing, excellently choreographed by Magdalen Barlett. The piece switches to and from moments of danger to joy quickly and subtly, perfectly articulating the horror of forced marriage, and the fact that underneath the veneer of celebration and joy can lie something deeply sinister. The duality here of music is notable; its ability to engender celebration is as potent as its ability to mask trauma.

Fiza evokes emotion brilliantly through technically intricate movement in what is otherwise a simplistic set up. Other than Fiza, the only presence on stage is a drummer who remains largely out of the action. A green scarf is brilliantly but simply flourished and draped on Fiza’s head to symbolise the moment at which her ordinary life spirals out of her control.

The downfall of this performance strangely enough is its brevity. It could have benefited from being longer to highlight the journey of Fiza’s story. All in all, this is a robust and poignant production which crucially depicts the power of dance to simultaneously articulate joy and the most harrowing of human experiences.

Sir Pe Talwar played at HOME Manchester on 17 June, as part of Horizons Festival. For more information see the HOME Manchester website.