Review: Ladylike, at Arcola theatre
19 July, 2019 — By Leo Garib
IN the age of #MeToo and Trump, women artists are up against a special challenge: How to show up sexual violence, pornography, celebrity crassness, and attacks on abortion rights?
This response by the acclaimed Ella Mesma dance company is one of the most original yet.
Ideas from interviews with ordinary women are brought to life by the imaginative British-Brazilian choreographer and dancer Ella Mesma in a four-woman show that is a highlight of the CASA Festival of Latin theatre and dance.
With the talented Anna Alvarez, Azara Meghie and Hsing Ya Wu, she fuses street dance, Afro-Latin and ballet in a powerful examination of consent and power.
Their theme plays on the old derogatory slang for women ‘chick’ or ‘hen’ with ensemble and solo routines that are surprising and often edgy.
In one a ‘chick’ literally seasons herself with herbs and spices, then trusses herself for roasting, all the while playing with ideas of sexual behaviour expected of women.
Others depict women tarted-up for carnival, courtship, lovemaking inspired by the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira, abuse and rape, but also sisterly solidarity.
Highly original costumes and props are inspired by regions of Brazil, Argentina and the Dominican Republic. There is an unusual intimacy between the four – the effect, doubtless, of years of hard graft and shared convictions about the kind of world women now live in.
Together they pose tough questions about male culture and agency with a tenderness and defiance that is uplifting – enough to raise a five-minute ovation and leave some in the audience visibly moved.
The award-winning show has already been performed at Sadler’s Wells and New York. Staging it now, amid the uncertainty of Brexit, Boris Johnson and Trump, could hardly be more appropriate.
The CASA Festival continues until July 27 at the Arcola theatre, Dalston, the Rich Mix, Shoreditch, and Rio cinema, Dalston.
• Ladylike at the Arcola theatre, Dalston, until 19 July.
• CASA Festival 16 – 27 July www.casafestival.org.uk
• Arcola Theatre telephone: 020 7503 1646