If you think you know Oliver Twist, think again, as the Avant Garde Dance Company and The Place collaborate to create a captivating and dynamic adaptation of the original Charles Dickens novel but remodelled in unparalleled contemporary hip hop style, as the tale has never been seen before. Tony Adigun, the creative director and choreographer at Avant Garde utilises his mastery in the art of contemporary dance to craft his ensemble of eight extremely skilled professional dancers to execute synchronised and energetic routines scene after scene, alluding to the hectic ruthless nature of the unforgiving streets of Victorian London.
However, the audience are not led along the path following young Oliver from the orphanage to sheltered under Fagin’s wing, oh no, the story commences long before that. Artful Dodger, adopting the function of narrator, addresses the audience directly ‘see it how it really happened’, where the villains become less villainous and the heroes, less trustworthy. The majority of the production is told through the medium of interpretive dance along with snippets and soliloquies of emotion-rendering spoken word throughout revitalizing the historic classic very much into the now. These components thrust us deep into the complex and intricate inner workings of the criminal mind of Fagin, who began life like most do, struggling in poverty stricken London. Without much choice, he is forced into the bleak and dingy workhouse with only his dream to keep him alive; to one day have his own top hat and pocket watch that he has paid for himself in full. He befriends a young Bill Sykes and together they form an unlikely brotherly bond, both driven by ambition and the hope of a better life, they escape the confines of the cold and cruel workhouse. Particularly impressive in that scene was how the ensemble managed to embody both the mechanical and monotonous routine of the anatomy of the machine, but also the desperation and dread of the young workers, out of place amongst the ominous clanking and clattering discordance of the factory.
What deserves an honourable mention is the ingenious design of Yann Seabra’s modular mobile and versatile set which accompanies the actors by gliding about the stage, fashioning a plethora of locations for the actors to bounce off and interact with; the back alleys of London, the cosy and safe hidden attic of the pickpockets and even the expanse of countless uneven roofs which Fagin and Sykes scramble along like rats in a maze.
Additionally, the lighting design of the production, nod to Jackie Shemesh, was an indispensible asset to the intensity and magnitude built up during the performance. Especially during Sykes’s descent into primitive and animalistic madness, the smoke and murky sidelight casting a dehumanizing entity on his threatening silhouette looming from the shadows. Sykes’s amplifying hostility is also alluded to with the use of menacing and progressive beats spurring him on, as an audience you constantly feel like Sykes is tiger about to pounce. The layering of sound and genre; orchestral violins over electronic pulses, perfectly manifested the conflicting emotions with the primal palpitations of the human heart. A particularly good example of this would be applying Valgeir Sigurusson’s piece from The Architecture of Loss, ‘Big Reveal’. Furthurmore, the coalescence of slow building agonizing accompaniment with Jemima Brown’s, playing Oliver, visually stunning precision of movement around the stage leaves you in awe. Having just graduated from London Contemporary Dance School, her unique elegance and composed controlled balletic style is really breath-taking to watch. Oliver is portrayed somewhat darker this time around; more scheming and opportunistic. A side we haven’t seen of him previous to this production. An interesting affirmation that things aren’t always what they seem.
Alas, Fagin’s Twist have concluded their tour but be sure to keep an eye out for more projects from Avant Garde to come.