Canal Street Online Manchester

Born to Manifest

Born to Manifest, choreographed and performed by Joseph Toonga, was presented for a single night in the Aldridge Studio at the Lowry on February 13th. It borrows from hip hop, and draws on his personal experiences, to impart the issues experienced by young black British men, but the message goes far wider. It consists of a series of linked episodes and was executed to a darkly throbbing sound track composed by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante.

Very few details of what we saw were given beforehand. There were no handouts, few credits even, just the brief details on the Lowry’s website. Given such scant clues, dance, especially when it’s as highly charged as this, can only be interpreted with reference to one’s own experiences. Everyone interprets things differently, and giving too much away too early would have precluded this. The running time was 50 minutes and given the stamina needed this is probably the maximum we could expect. The main themes I took away were anger, violence, frustration, vulnerability and finally pride.

It starts with Joseph standing alone with his back to us under a dim downlighter. As this brightens, the moves become more and more aggressive and his breathing becomes stertorous. Eventually he turns to face us and the pent up anger is palpable. This led into a semi narrated shoot out and the words of the soundtrack took up the message. What followed brought to mind an event from over 20 years ago in Bronx, NY, where police in plain clothes poured 41 rounds – they only stopped shooting when they ran out of bullets – into an unarmed West African immigrant, Amadou Diallo. Frightened for his life (and rightly so) he pulled out his wallet. They expected a gun. It’s not just young black British men.

Joseph was then joined by Dani Harris-Walters who rescued Joseph from where he’d fallen and a nervous trust develops, followed by some shadow boxing and ever wilder acrobatic moves with lifts and falls. Here the dance took on tribal, even feral qualities, before Joseph left Dani to continue the message on his own – which he does with a variation of what we’d already seen. Joseph later returns and the rescuer and rescued roles are subtly reversed. The evening ended with both of them standing with a clenched fist in defiance as brothers.

On the way out of the studio there are these words, from an anonymous 16-year old, promoting one the Lowry’s missions: “Being creative and performing means that I can tell people how I feel and what I think without having to say a word”.

Exactly, and this performance delivers that in abundance. For those who weren’t there an extract is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YUWePfttCE

Paul Schofield for Canal St Online.

Published: 14-Feb-2020 (5770)

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