Fagin’s Twist – Avant Garde urban dance take on an urban tale

Fagin’s gang

Avant Garde Dance for a traditional tale

Avant Garde Dance Company were sold out at my favourite Newcastle Theatre – Northern Stage – this week for their tour of Fagin’s Twist, a re imagining of the familiar tale of Oliver Twist as seen from Fagin’s point of view.

Fagin’s Twist features five familiar characters – Fagin, Bill Sykes, Nancy, Oliver Twist and the
Artful Dodger – but takes a new look at the paths of their lives and individual circumstances. The story of
Fagin’s life, corrupted by greed and worn down by poverty, is told through precision
choreography by an ensemble of eight performers. The creative director Tony Adigun uses an edgy urban style combining his experience from the worlds of contemporary, commercial and hip hop dance.

There are indeed some very exciting urban dance numbers with innovative choreography and I have to say brilliant original music by Seymour Milton and Benji Bower. The exploding firecracker snaps of Electro urban music mimicked the robotic movements of the monotony of life in the workhouse, is an extremely powerful scene. This a dark tale, and the music and the sets and costumes reflect this, but this tone dominates the whole performance which makes it harder to identify with or feel empathy for the characters.

The ensemble and the main dancers are without doubt, very talented. Athletic and with good technique, they were great at executing the type of dance that I can watch all day. However, in trying ambitiously to fuse dialogue and dance, and specifically in using dancers as actors, the whole was finally not more than the sum of its parts. The narrative was not always clear, and we really needed Dodger’s recap at the beginning of the second half.

Should a dancer have a voice?

Should dancers speak? Well there’s no reason why not – but only if they are good at it!  I found Arran Green quite mesmerising as a dancer, but as an actor he was distinctly average. He had a lovely speech in the second half of the play and I kept thinking how much more impact this would have made with a voice over with some gravitas while we watched him physically act it out on stage. It’s great that one of the dancers (the very able Ellis Saul) is from the North East, but did we need to hear her accent? Breaking that boundary from the dance professional to the acting performance which was less good, didn’t really work for me. The exception to this however was Aaron Nuttall who seemed the most able to rise to the dancing/speaking/acting challenge. I loved his moves too!

Also for me, the concept of Oliver really being a nasty piece of work didn’t feel credible, rather more gimmicky than clever, although I did like the idea of looking at the story from Fagin’s perspective. Oliver didn’t have an angelic face to start with (I actually thought Ellis would have been better in this role) and the whole premise of the original was based on watching the innocent abroad in the world of sin which was where the pathos of the story came from.

In summary, the dance, music and choreography were great, and the young dancers full of vibrant energy. It’s worth seeing Fagin’s Twist for that alone, but the whole as a piece of storytelling it was curiously unsatisfying. The conflict between Nancy and Bill could have been a much more consistent dramatic theme as could the murder of Fagin. These two hugely significant deaths which would have been ideal opportunities for a a few more dance battles, seemed very rushed.

An ambitious theatrical experiment

Perhaps it was a case of trying to do too many things at once, experiments are fun but sometimes they just don’t work. I am a huge urban dance fan and so maybe my expectations were too high. I remember being blown way by Bounce dance company’s ‘Insane in the Brain’ which was an urban dance version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This is what I was hoping for with Fagin’s Twist. Make your own mind up.

Fagin’s Twist has already performed around the country to critical and audience acclaim,
including a run at leading London contemporary dance venue The Place, and in August 2017
performed at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 as part of the British Council Showcase.

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