Adzido has moved from a crisis to a crossroads. Founded in 1984 as Adzido Pan-African Dance Ensemble, the British company has recently been subject to questions about artistic quality, cultural relevance and value for money. Currently under an interim directorship, it has come up with two new productions, each signalling a different way forward.
One man struggles out of his suit as if ridding himself of a cloying second skin
Silk, by South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma, is a significant departure for them. Instead of showcasing traditional African styles, Maqoma mixes and moulds them into a more personal and contemporary choreographic vision. Five mannequins line the back of the stage, blank counterparts to the five dancers in sleek black designer suits. One man struggles out of his suit as if ridding himself of a cloying second skin. He then slips into unison with the others, making us uncomfortably aware of what we’re watching – black suits, black skin – and the difference the transformation of one into the other makes.
Maqoma sets up several such tensions, but doesn’t try to resolve them; nor does he treat them as themes. Instead, they are the ground on which he builds a series of plotless set pieces, mostly driven by the percussion of the live musicians. The best of these episodes is the simplest: in it, a pounding drumbeat galvanises the dancers into a crescendo of shoulder spasms and lunges, generating a fearsome sense of force. They seem possessed by agitated spirits.
Maqoma’s choreographic intentions are sometimes obscured by the drive and energy of the movement, and more variety of pacing would be welcome. But his style and subject are innovative and idiosyncratic.
In contrast, Adzido’s other new work, Footsteps of Africa by Zenzi Mbuli, covers more familiar ground, with traditional dance forms adapted for a populist format. It’s worth keeping an eye on how audiences respond to these two works – they will shape the company’s future.