Street dance might seem an odd style for a Dickensian tale, but in choreographer Tony Adigun’s imaginative if flawed version of Oliver Twist, the nifty footwork and ducking and weaving suits all the pickpocketing and scamming in the story. Adigun also uses hip-hop’s taut formations and face-offs to suggest close-knit gangs and the tensions within them.
Artful Dodger Aaron Nuttall begins by telling us not to believe the traditional tale. The first half of the evening is given over to the back story of the main characters. Fagin (Joshua James Smith) and Bill Sikes (Dani Harris-Walters) meet and befriend each other as orphans in a workhouse, Fagin dreaming of owning a pocket watch one day, Sikes of having a girlfriend. After escaping, reality compromises their dreams: Fagin turns to thievery, Sikes has a troubled relationship with Nancy (Lisa Hood) and then along comes Oliver Twist (Jemima Brown, a compact dynamo of a dancer), who is not what he seems.
If Maxwell Golden’s spoken text occasionally jars, the piece looks great, played out against Yann Seabra’s versatile wooden set and Jackie Shemesh’s moody lighting. But the dancers’ best efforts are hampered by the story. Aiming for big ideas about money and deception, this production overcomplicates its plot and loses touch with its characters, such that the crucial final twist in the tale feels contrived. Nevertheless, Avant Garde’s production proves that certain aspects of hip-hop are themselves a kind of artful dodging.