Perhaps one of the few upsides to a predominantly digital Edinburgh festivals programme is that it allows artists to be in more than one place at the same time. Director, choreographer and performer Mele Broomes is a case in point. She’s appearing in the Edinburgh Art Festival exhibition Reset at Jupiter Artland, plus two shows at the Fringe via Summerhall’s online programme.
The Fringe works have been seen before – Grin live on stage during Dance International Glasgow in 2019 and Wrapped Up In This as part of the Take Me Somewhere online festival in May this year. But to have both programmed as part of Summerhall’s Fringe offering (and one as part of the Made in Scotland showcase) cements Broomes’ status as one of the most important and thought-provoking Black artists in UK dance.
Those who saw her acclaimed 2018 work, Void, will know what a compelling stage presence Broomes has. Since then she has continued to explore, celebrate and champion the African and Caribbean diaspora in Scotland, both through performing and directing others.
Broomes herself delivers Wrapped Up In This, but Grin is performed by collaborators Divine Tasinda and Levent Nyembo. Each approach brings its own rewards and challenges. “When I’m working on my own it’s a lot more pressured and exposing,” says Broomes. “And it can be challenging to motivate yourself and create movement when you’re thinking about so many other things – listening to and facilitating a creative team at the same time as trying to generate choreography and embody it.
“Whereas when I’m working with other dancers who are helping create my vision, they’re part of the process and take physical and emotional ownership over the work. So it feels like some of my anxiety is calmed because other people are saying ‘this feels good’ or ‘that doesn’t feel good’, it’s much more of a dialogue. But then it’s also quite liberating to be able to hold that space myself because I know exactly where I want to move my body and what I want to say - I don’t have to tell anybody.”
An emotive live work, with Tasinda and Nyembo draped in captivating costumes, Grin has now been specially shot for the Fringe by filmmaker Daniel Hughes. The piece sets out to subvert hyper-sexualised perceptions of African and Caribbean dance, and by re-visiting it through film Broomes had a chance to dig even deeper.
“When I talked with people of colour about the show, a lot of them spoke about their ancestry,” recalls Broomes. “They also felt a sense of empowerment, disempowerment and at times quite a lot of pain. The filmed version will, in essence, be the same show but a much slicker version. We also play with the camera, so it won’t look like we’re live-streaming a theatre show, it will be stylistic in response to the choreography, more dynamic and intimate.”
Wrapped Up In This may be a solo work, but Broomes had numerous collaborators on her creative journey. Firstly by interviewing many women of colour working in a wide range of professions, and then enlisting the talents of Glasgow-based music producers Nwanneka Osammor, Sarra Wild and Shaheeda Sinckler to create the score. The piece itself was inspired by ‘cleaning’ – not just in the usual sense, but the need to clear up mess for a myriad of reasons.
“A lot of domestic work is done by people of colour,” says Broomes. “But it’s also about supporting people who have gone through hardship because they’ve been attacked or somebody has created a noise or mess around them. And for speaking up you can make a mess – not intentionally, it’s other people making a mess around you that wasn’t required.”
Wrapped Up In This, Summerhall Online, 6-29 August. Grin, Summerhall Online, 13-29 August. www.summerhall.co.uk
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