Cultural Renegades - Wednesday 6th September
I was walking in search of the Red Rattler Theatre. The air had a bite to it, Wicks Park looked strangely wholesome in that evening quietude, and the traffic flow on Sydenham Road stopped and started with unusual calm and patience.
It was at that point that I remembered it was an unsuspecting Wednesday night. I turned left into a lane-like passage that had filled its own gutters with shards of glass and other remnants of variously sweet and sweaty nights out - Faversham Street. I was then met with the giant red door that signalled my arrival at Red Rattler Theatre.
Upon entry: a pumping beat. Visceral bass. Underground.
Eclectic: chesterfields; leather booths; luxurious red and velvet ornaments; peeling paint of a brick wall; dark with only atmospheric light; a cash-only bar; a DJ with a knowing smile; numerous mini stages positioned throughout the rectangular space. Deep, deep red velvet and multicoloured graffiti in all corners.
There were none of those familiar, parallel lines that signalled: ‘seating for the performance’ – there was just a whole lot of open space with the generous selection of sofas having been pushed to the outskirts of the room.
The entire venue, including the bar, turned into a self-contained stage for dance and expression. Red Rattler Theatre lives up to its name: it is carmine red and pulsates with the threat of rhythmic outburst and play. The several people who had arrived at the venue were oozing with the dress of dropcrotch swagger and cool.
At one point, the music was cut short and the soon-to- be familiar voice of our MC (DT) announced that this “roaming show”, Cultural Renegades, would begin shortly. After a smooth opening by DT in spoken word form (“I heard my dreams calling me / but what’s the consequence [...] Now what you’ll see is the visualisation of sound”), various ‘audience members’ sprang forth and revealed themselves as dancers in the performance. Steve Marta (dancer) describes the performance as exploring “a storyline to a classic night out, where you come out with your friends and you see small stories evolve through the dance and the music”, while Chido Mombeshora (dancer) lovingly professes that the show is “a massive party” for everyone to enjoy and feel themselves within.
What one would very loosely refer to as the ‘narrative’ of this event manifested through fluid movements from dances of various intensity, mood and style, to interludes of spoken word, and to thumping music, with all elements incorporating an irresistibly rhythmic mixture of dancehall and hip-hop.
There were various evolutions of hip-hop: breaking, urban choreography and Jamaican street dance. The entire audience was bopping, twerking and jerking to the music, which possessed your limbs and swallowed your sense of time and place with bodily force, reinforced further by the shared messages of love, freedom and cultural acceptance. The dancers were within such close proximity to the audience, and one couldn’t help but marvel at the physicality and unison of the choreography.
Creative Director, Lisa Crowe, and dancer, Kiara Thomson, often visit Jamaica to learn more about the cultural origins and practice of Dancehall music and movement, a genre that emerged from the streets of Jamaica and for which they have great respect. They express how liberating and empowering it is, particularly as women, to perform in a space where they are allowed to reclaim and freely move their bodies in ways that were once (and still are) deemed provocative, “ghetto”, and wrong.
The entire bus trip down Enmore Road was spent imagining a parallel universe where I could dance in explosive ways and provoke such feelings of elation and unison.
[Keep the rhythm going tomorrow when James goes dancing with Feathered and Fierce and feasts on Facemeat]
Written by Rebecca Ha