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Dance Black Waters, Leeds Playhouse/Touring

Impressionistic approach to colonial crimes muddies waters

BLACK Waters, Phoenix Dance Theatre’s homage to unexplored cultural histories, focuses on two episodes from Britain’s colonial past – the 1781 Zong ship massacre, during which 130 African slaves were thrown overboard for insurance purposes and the torture of Indian freedom fighters at the Kala Pani island prison between 1858 and 1938.

Rather than present a straight narrative of the events, co-creators Sharon Watson – Phoenix's artistic director – and Shambik Ghose and Mitul Sengupta, from Kolkata-based Rhythmosaic, have chose to explore them through themes of “place, worth and belonging.”

But the impressionistic choreography means that without programme notes it’s virtually impossible to relate movement to subject matter.

There are some scenes that live up to the production’s ambitions. The opening sequence, during which 10 seated dancers work through a series of meditative movements, conveys the gentle undulation of the sea.

And entrapment is viscerally conveyed through ropes binding a dancer’s ankles as he moves towards a sliver of ground-level expanding light, designed by Kieron Johnson.

Yet, ultimately, the piece is too abstract to convey emotion, or, despite Watson’s hopes, to stimulate an interest in exploring the events further.

Tours until June 20, details: phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk

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