Review: WHITEOUT, Barrowlands Ballet. LEAP Dance Festival 2017

WHITEOUT, Barrowlands Ballet

WHITEOUT, Barrowlands Ballet. LEAP Dance Festival 2017
Make. Liverpool
, 4th March 2017

Words by Moira Leonard

LEAP Dance Festival is keen to engage, inspire and create discussion, and throughout the twelve days of this festival there are a wide range of performances to explore. So far, the first two shows have been of a high standard using completely different approaches. Over the first three days we move from a strong, linear narrative to the lyrical, abstract, ‘Whiteout’ from Scotland’s Barrowlands Ballet.

Inspiration for ‘Whiteout’ comes from Choreographer and Director Natasha Gilmore’s experience as a wife and mother in a bi-racial marriage. Gilmore explainswhen I became a mother it changed my sense of the world, you have responsibility for making choices for your children and I became aware how their ethnicity affected these choices…I became aware of how ‘white’ my perspective was”.

With immigration and racial differences still at the forefront of media headlines, this seems a very relevant topic to be highlighting right now. So, I was anticipating some fresh ideas to emerge. Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations as, true to the concept of abstraction, this is more about shining a light into the crevices and handing it over to the audience to interpret themselves.

There is much to admire in this work:

  • Excellent staging: with black and white projections and sensitive lighting all complementing the performance. Sliding back one of the panels to allow interaction with the live dancers is very clever. Aesthetically it is all very pleasing.
  • Accomplished dancers: convincingly portraying a range of emotions from pain, dislocation, confusion and anger to breath-taking tenderness, love and joy. Six diverse dancers all work together to create a ‘utopian dream’ interspersed with sudden mood swings: dangerous and foreboding in one instance, total innocence and unbridled happiness in the next.
  • Outstanding soundscape: worldwide music and melodies all mixed up to create a real acoustic treat: pulsating rhythms; carnival frolics; heavy reggae; soft strings; searing guitar; plaintive folk songs; Kate Bush ‘running up that hill’ and hilariously Britney ‘hit me baby one more time’! The melting pot of multicultural influences is a joy to behold, perfectly complimenting the concept of the performance. However, despite the euphoric mix, not every dancer fits with every tune. There are hints of: exclusion; of not being connected; of being an outsider.

So, what of a deeper level of audience engagement around those challenges faced by bi-racial children and their families, as Gilmore talks about in her introduction to the work? To me this performance highlights the notion that youngsters regardless of their background are innocent, happy, and accepting of everyone. Differences either physical or cultural do not matter to them. They just want to play, learn and to have fun. They are protected by the love of their parents/guardians and their immediate community. Illustrated beautifully with live dancers intertwining with projected images.

As the children grow up and start standing on their own two feet though, what then? ‘Whiteout’ opens with six hooded dancers appearing to battle against the elements, lost, blown back, desperately trying to reach out but constantly being torn apart. Do they represent adolescents trying to find their place in the world, like many teenagers do? Does the bi-racial aspect make it harder for them?

From an intellectual point of view this work does raise many questions in my mind. My immediate response to ‘Whiteout’ and the way I felt after taking time for reflection were very different. It takes a while to sink in. Even as I write this review going over each aspect of the show, I realise that there are hidden depths which are still making me think.

Like an abstract painting, you as the audience will take away from it what is meaningful to you. To some it will strike a chord deep inside, to others it may just be a visual feast with a great soundtrack. Personally, I was hoping for something a bit more edgy, however, there is no doubt it is a well-crafted, quality performance.

Mon 6 Mar | 7:30pm | £16 (£14 Conc)

LEAP festival runs from 1 March – 12 March. Details can be found at www.unitytheatreliverpool.co.uk/leap-2017