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No Woman’s Land and INO MOXO. An Origins Festival Double Bill review, by Donald Hutera

Origins, the London-based festival of work by international indigenous artists, is now in its tenth year and, if anything, the need to celebrate authentic expressions of cultural identity seems stronger than ever. Dance has featured in a few of the festival’s impressive roster of live performances, concerts, screenings, exhibitions and talks (ending June 23). The two shows under consideration here were presented just twice, and could be deemed past tense. Yet both exerted the kind of impact that sticks with you in terms of their content, vivid imagery and the potent combination of thoughts and feelings that arose as each performance unfolded. In other words, these works resonated – which is a hallmark of the experiences Origins strives to bring to audiences every year.

I’ve been a champion of the Spanish dancer-choreographer (and budding film-maker) Avatara Ayuso for some time. No Woman’s Land (seen at The Place), a powerful and questioning cross-cultural and cross-generational collaboration between her and the Inuk artist-activist Naulaq LeDrew, is unlike anything else she has yet attempted.

Ayuso is in her mid-30s, while LeDrew is approaching 60. This pair of dynamos met while Ayuso was on the hunt for a mature woman from Canada who could be the centrepiece of a proposed short film, one in a series of three looking at women of various ages in extreme climates. After seven months of emails they finally came face to face. The creative relationship clicked. One result is this live performance, which could be viewed as a preface to the film (for which support is still being sought).

It starts with LeDrew alone on the bright, Arctic-white stage, bundled up in sealskin parka and slicing raw fish. Ayuso stumbles on in high heels and a ridiculously tight, floral-print black dress. Centrestage is an oblong block of ice that will soon get attacked and hacked into chunks. It ends with LeDrew and Ayuso, plus a small supporting cast of modern young women recruited from Creative Academy in Slough, happily making cat’s cradles. What ensues in between is an unpredictably episodic, borderline ritualistic, dramatic yet sometimes satirically stylised encounter between two women from radically different worlds finding some sort of common ground or connection.

As the person responsible for concept and direction Ayuso drives the performance, but LeDrew is its foundation point. We’re given morsels of information about both, but framed within their respective cultural contexts – LeDrew’s relating to tradition and survival, and the Majorcan-born Ayuso’s steeped in relative comfort and privilege. Tellingly, each verbally thwarts a stereotyped role: Ayuso is not a coloniser, LeDrew not a savage. And rather than Ayuso acting as LeDrew’s white-skinned saviour, it is the latter who at one juncture guides and, in effect, rescues the younger woman.

Physically they are in striking contrast – LeDrew compact and deceptively serene, Ayuso sensually sturdy and expressively nimble. Towards the end of the show each also has a strong solo. LeDrew’s drumming accompanies her own brief but stunningly fierce vocal outburst. Ayuso’s starts with the wielding of a fringed, flamenco-ready shawl to baroque music, and climaxes with a feral, even erotic consuming of a curious stain on her leg (which, as a post-show talk revealed, is a reference to a tumour she once had there that almost put paid to a dance career). Not everything in No Woman’s Land works as well as it might, but it has a fresh intelligence in terms of both its clear sense of stagecraft and its social awareness.  It’s a smart piece of entertainment with a wide scope.

For more information on this project and other works by Ayuso’s AVA Dance Company check out this website:

Origins also deserves kudos for presenting (at Southbank Centre's Purcell Room) Grupo Integro’s perhaps demanding but extraordinarily oneiric ensemble work INO MOXO, directed and co-choreographed (with the performer Ana Zavala) by Oscar Naters. Although derived from a novel by Cesar Calvo that tells the story of a journey into the Amazon jungle, this Peruvian production was no straightforward literary adaptation. As stated in the festival programme, it is not a representation or illustration of its written source material but instead ‘a synaesthetic experience allowing us to resonate with its essence.’ Uh, okay. That might read like somewhat pretentious intentions but the in-person pay-off was something else.

Played out by a mixed cast of five from behind a scrim that also served as the screen for selective bits of text and patterned imagery, the show’s dreamy, slowed-down pace, spare setting (mainly indicated via discreetly placed stones) and minimal but always purposeful, articulate use of movement was mysterious and entrancing, seemingly soft in impact yet intense and vital. This was performance as a shared secret ceremony, and one with a rigorous yet open vision quite unlike that perpetrated by the dominant and usually commercial cultural mainstream. It was an intuitively-shaped, subliminal spiritual spectacle, if you like, marked by wisdom and beauty. It built, too, towards what I interpreted as an indelible image of death and transcendence, focused on a woman in an aqua dress using a stone as a pillow, and then drew to a close in rhythm and breath imparted via a song delivered by a shaman.  

Origins continues till June 23. Later this week (June 21-23) there is Westway Solstice, an open-air performance created by Anishinaabe dance artist Brian Solomon during a residency in the North Kensington community. For details of this and other festival treats go to

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