The BELLY of the Beast – Jamila Johnson-Small and Mira Kautto: William William

Image credit: Camilla GreenwellImage credit: Camilla Greenwell


In the evening’s opening work, William William, Mira Kautto and Jamila Johnson-Small let textures speak. Multiple images at play – sometimes rock goddesses, semi-nude women or men in trousers to name but a few – invited me into a world of different possibilities in seeing. It appeared intensely set and yet I was watching something that was unfolding like a fluid conversation.

There were cool and edgy movements, deadpan and lukewarm faces, drawn on moustaches, aggressive muscular limbs, hard lighting and power walks. There was a display of smooth bare skin and round breasts, soft open faces, short cosy dresses and two sweet glowing neon pink flamingoes.
I was able to roam between these and Mira and Jamila. Observing the performers and makers of the piece, they were strikingly unique to each other. Like the different images of the work, I enjoyed the fluidity of these differences and the power that they shared together on stage. My eyes were constantly shifting in the way I was reading what they were proposing. This was a great involvement for me sitting in the audience as I felt they gave me the power to absorb their work in my own personal way.
There was openness invited by the artists of the night and I felt encouraged to make what I made of it. I appreciate this feeling of openness. It made me even more curious and active in my participation.
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Mansoor Ali is a postgraduate student at London Contemporary Dance School. Mansoor also wrote about For example, much of the human body.

Lights up to reveal a full set: a projection screen, a small central raised stage, speakers, a hanging strip light feature, a projected screen on the floor, and two polystyrene heads that echo the powerful profiles of performers Johnson-Small and Kautto who stand stage left wearing long white vests and red sneakers. The lighting is dark but focuses on them enough to see the soft moustache painted on their upper lips.
They appear to be speaking lyrics from a rock song, which they are listening to on iPods with headphones. Their speech is unaffected and inexpressive and comes in and out of sync. Both performers move to centre-stage and begin taking it in turns to stamp out a rhythm while the other responds in movement. This sequence continues, developing into a soft and focused cycle of movement that is performed in quiet confrontation with the audience. Throughout, the dancers maintain an honest connection with both the audience and each other, combining personal groove with an articulate and sensuous physicality. The revisited sounds of their speech, combined with an intelligent sound design by Bertin, bind the piece together into a convincing whole.
The overall tone of the piece stays almost unsettlingly steady, and is by no means an easy watch. But it is this slowness of pace and repetition that enables us to come steadily closer, each time seeing deeper. Changes in the lighting occur as the dancers, eventually stripped down to partial nudity, play out their gender roles on the small raised stage, which takes on the identity of boxing ring and strip dance podium in turn.

I salute them for their vision and pursuit of this epic and sometimes heavy subject matter of gender and power. Left imprinted on my mind is the notion of the pair walking back through time, embodying and transforming fragments of the projected images surrounding them of male ‘rock gods’ and perhaps idols. Two women playing with imagery from a man’s world.

Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome is a working dance artist and choreographer in London. She is currently collaborating with composer Nena Zinovieff, making a commissioned work for the band Savages and in the past working with visual artist’s Eddie Peake, (Turner Prize nominee) Spartacus Chetwynd and Charlie Hope. Fernanda also wrote about KITTY2012.