Avant Garde Dance and The Place present Fagin’s Twist, a reimagining of the classic Dicken’s story, Oliver Twist. From the beginning the twist came musically, and choreographically, with passion and intention as seven performers entered the stage dressed in white, wrestling with a box. Their motion in tight unison and in canon fusing together contemporary modern dance and hip hop style movements; powerful, engaging and intense. Their manoeuvres directing attention to the lone figure that had been standing on the balcony from the moment the audience arrived, the figure that we would come to know as Fagin. This was an opening that predated the traditional Oliver story and it used contemporary sounds, movements and lighting - no Lionel Bart song and dance here.
The first act of the show demonstrated Fagin’s rise to the leader of a gang of pickpockets and thieves but in a way that made us recognise that he was not always so hard-nosed; he fell on hard times and with the help of Bill Sykes they pursued their dreams. Along the way we meet Nancy, Dodger and finally Oliver himself. The characters begin in embryo, with gestures and motifs that evolve and grow until, by the second act, we have fully formed personalities - I felt it was significant that the performers only wore socks in the first act and that shoes appeared in the second, the finished personae right down to their feet.
The second act takes a more familiar narrative, helpfully assisted by Dodger, continuing the storyteller role he began in act one. However, there is a twist in the Oliver that we see - although I did feel that the ending was a little bit obvious.
From the moment that the lighting changed, the music pumped out of the speakers, and the performers invaded the stage, I was gripped. This is a performance where every component is first class. Tony Adigun’s choreography and direction demonstrates why he is in such demand - there wasn’t one movement that didn’t have intention, power, characterisation and purpose. The movements expanded and drove forward the narrative, cleverly written by Maxwell Golden and interpreted for stage by Adam Peck. Their sentiment was amplified by the awesome soundtrack and lighting design, thanks to Brian Hargreaves and Jackie Shemesh. And all of this was embodied with passion, energy and sweat by the fabulous cast of performers: Joshua James Smith as Fagin, Dani Harris-Walters as Bill Sykes, Aaron Nuttal as the Artful Dodger, Lisa Hood as Nancy, Jemima Brown as Oliver Twist and Muti Musafiri, George Hodson and Sia Gbamoi in the Ensemble; each performing giving 100% for the entirety of their time on stage, in front of a mesmerised audience. The synergy that was created here was like none I have every experience by a piece of dance theatre. Add to this the great use of costume and the brilliantly imagined set design by Yann Seabra and you have a piece of theatre that for me defies superlatives!
There were times when I couldn’t take my eyes off the performers, as the music and movement grabbed by emotions and thoughts and the whole experience took my breathe away.
I count myself very lucky to have experienced such a great piece of dance theatre, as it makes a brief visit to the North-West, before it travels to Scotland, the South-West and London on its tour. If you can, I recommend you try and track it down, you will not be disappointed. Check out the dates and venues here:
Reviewer: Alan Harbottle
Reviewed: 20th May 2016