In her review, Shirley Ahura captures the high energy of Joshua Nash’s unparalleled duet, Blacklist, performed as part of The Place’s Festival of New Choreography, Resolution 2019.
Joshua Nash’s Blacklist begins with a long, hard look at the Individual. What follows is a fiery, high energy duet dealing with, in and amongst inner demons, fractures in the ‘Self’ and the complexities of kinship – all shown through the prism of Hip Hop, Krump and performance theatre. The end result is a piece as earth-shattering as the reception greeting its closing scene. An exploration into the internal and external struggles of two entities vying for survival, but also self-expression – which in many ways is a mode of survival in itself – Blacklist is a piece steeped in interplay and contrast. There are scenes of deep solitude. There are also scenes of breathtaking synergy. Joshua Nash and Jordan Douglas, Blacklist ’s immensely dynamic duo, seem to operate not to the beat of their own respective drums but to each other’s. In perfect choreographic harmony throughout, Blacklist ’s greatest triumph lies in its fusing together of the ample and unique talents of two individuals in ways that breathe new life to the meaning of unity and togetherness in our fractured and divided world.
The ways in which people relate to, interact with, and have an effect on each other are multidimensional and complex, as shown in Blacklist ’s opening scene. A mirror, invisible to the naked eye, is held up surreptitiously to our pair of protagonists as they enter from opposite ends of the stage. In appearance, there are clear and deliberate commonalities: both appear bare chested, in matching khaki trousers, their dreadlocks tied up and almost identically away from the face. In reality, they are worlds apart. As if by ritual they pass each other, heads down, gaining ground but never too much distance. Close in proximity, they remain averse to contact. The one thing that does unite them is a flawless exploration of Krump. Jerky, anguished and raw, the two dancers execute what has long been a free and improvisational street dance form with bold and beautiful synergy. The choreography is dizzyingly in sync from the aggression fuelling the very first stomp to the swiftness of the very last jab. The musicality in their movement is rich and textured; both attack different elements of the music, layering the piece with new dimensions as it progresses. With every glitch, body tick and pop however, a clear and irrefutable force slowly overrides the systems of our two performers. What soon becomes clear is that each one is battling with something internal and unnamed, externalised and expressed through the medium of their Krump-inflected movement. Opening the piece in this way foregrounds one of Blacklist’ s integral themes from the outset: inner conflict.
The absence of contact is a powerful device, and is itself an interesting response to conflict. For many of us, insularity presents itself as a welcome reprieve from the burdens of personal worries, anxieties and concerns, the weight of which can often perpetuate feelings of isolation and the inability to connect. Bringing some of Blacklist’ s important themes back to the fore, Nash and Douglas appear lost to the world of their own internal struggles. The message is simple, yet effective. Unable to see beyond one’s own personal plight, one that is more often than not shared, blinds you to the plight of those around you – and inevitably to that which binds you. Spoiler alert? A problem shared can indeed be a problem halved.
In Blacklist, the interplay between harmony and disunity, isolation and connectivity is also that which separates the brother from the outsider, the opponent from the counterpart, the foe from the friend.
Delving further into the theme of brotherhood is another highlight of the piece: the use of shadows. Playing on the trope of the mirror image, the lighting shifts to project Nash and Douglas’ shadows onto the wall behind them. The effect is a split focus between them dancing in real time on the stage, and their silhouettes mirrored to the rear. Our troubled duo become a frantic quartet, and this clever use of lighting intensifies not only the discipline with which they move, but also the discord that this splintering symbolises. This doubling, or layering of selves signals a clear rupture between Nash and Douglas, a rupture that arrives just in time for their solos. These solos allow for both dancers to flesh out their mutual journeys through self-conflict. They mark a recognition of the individual as ‘I’; allowing for Nash and Douglas to identify with their own image whilst setting themselves up as mirrors to one other. In Blacklist, the interplay between harmony and disunity, isolation and connectivity is also that which separates the brother from the outsider, the opponent from the counterpart, the foe from the friend.
The seed of discord is in this way sewn between our two dancers. Explored across both solos is the body’s relationship with gravity, with each soloist navigating between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ levels. Douglas is air-bound and light throughout his performance. He paces through his movements, carefully deliberating as he launches into an impressive array of aerial jumps, lifts and spins. Nash in contrast utilises foot and floorwork. He is more grounded in his movement, using intricate, House-inspired combinations to focus his attention on the kinesthetic feedback provided by the floor.
Also prevalent in these solo performances is the bond of brotherhood reaching breaking point. Whilst Douglas appears to be in total control of his faculties, Nash becomes over-burdened by the weight of self-conflict. His solo takes on a darker, more beleaguered tone as a result. He appears to lose his way in the fight for survival and embarks on a journey of seemingly no return. Abandoned, he takes a seat on ‘the chair’ (the same enigmatic prop, having not been present in Douglas’ solo, which begged the burning question on everyone’s lips -– what was with that chair?) and becomes increasingly erratic and affected in his freestyle as a result. Giving in to his internal despair in this way, he inevitably succumbs to the lure of his own self-destruction. The crux of brotherhood in this sequence therefore is not only what makes the two dancers similar, but also what sets them apart. Both dancers explore a plethora of coping mechanisms in the face of adversity. In Douglas and Nash, we are presented with two options respectively: sink or swim; fight or flight.
From every source of conflict, there must come a resolution. Douglas and Nash rejoin the stage ready for reckoning, their dreadlocks now hanging loosely over their faces. It is as if they are brought to this moment not by an expectant audience, but by a force greater than themselves. In the piece’s final phase, Douglas and Nash must confront the dead weight that has brought them to this point together. The finale therefore unfolds in an epic, high-energy duet that ignites Nash’s rebirth in an equally climactic baptism of fire. In one scene, Douglas appears to circle Nash much like a lion on the prowl. Rather than devouring his weakened opponent however, he leads him from strength to strength, hyping him up and propelling him forward. The music intensifies, becoming more upbeat to match the new-found cadence of the dancers. We finally have contact, and it is a truly beautiful thing. Well-rehearsed and impeccably synchronised, the two dancers work to build, fortify and insulate one another from outside pressures in a hyperactive, almost playful sequence. Both Nash and Douglas come out on the other side restored and reunited, the proverbial phoenixes rising from the very ashes that threatened them into obscurity only moments before.
In Blacklist , the audience are made privy to a personal kind of chaos that would make even Othello do a double take. Through a web of complex thematic and movement language setting, we are taken from conflicts and battles (internal and otherwise), to strategies for survival, to temporary remission and reprieve. The final frame shows our two dancers back to back in a powerful gesture of defiance before the scene fades to black. In a similar thread to Jordan Peele’s groundbreaking 2017 horror picture, triggered in my mind was an irrevocable need to get out. Escaping the grip of self-doubt however, is no easy feat. Fickle first world problems, renewed worries and deep-seated anxieties are bound to us like moths to a white-hot lightbulb, so much so that reprieve may only ever seem transient. Nevertheless, beyond the fate of Nash and Douglas as protagonists, their combined excellence as dancers bring to the stage something that is conceptually daring, visually stunning and, for the audience as much as for themselves, cathartic in body, mind and sensibility. Blacklist is truly one not to miss.
Blacklist was performed as part of Resolution 2019 at The Place, London, on the 11th January. Click the links for information about Blacklist, Joshua Nash and the rest of The Place’s Resolution 2019 programme.