Dance reviews: Grin & Trajal Harrell, Tramway, Glasgow

A slow burn can build expectation or provoke frustration. In Grin, the latter is most certainly the case. A two-hander choreographed by Mele Broomes of Scottish dance company V/DA, the piece starts in darkness. Light bouncing off their silver costumes, we slowly pick out dancers Levent Nyembo and Divine Tasinda shifting on the floor like butterflies shedding their cocoons.

Levent Nyembo and Divine Tasinda in Grin PIC: Tiu Makkonen
Levent Nyembo and Divine Tasinda in Grin PIC: Tiu Makkonen

Grin, Tramway, Glasgow, ****

Trajal Harrell, Tramway, Glasgow ***

When we do finally see them upstage, upright and unsheathed from their tinselled carnival robes, their talent is laid bare. Both Nyembo and Tasinda were born in the Congo but now live in Scotland, and with Broomes are questioning how their black skin and African/Caribbean movement is viewed. The show’s title refers to the need for people to smile through oppression – to pretend to be something you’re not.

Bodily movements hypersexualised by the West are reclaimed, bodily tension potentially viewed as aggression is reframed. If there’s a complaint, it’s that Nyembo and Tasinda are such compelling dancers, we long for more of their penetrating moves.

Trajal Harrell was named dancer of the year by Germany’s Tanz Magazine. It’s a weighty crown, so he harnessed the thoughts of self-worth it triggered and fed them into a new solo. Everything is carried out before us, from costume changes to music cues on the laptop. Pulling dresses and socks out of a holdall, he invites us into his world.

When he steps onto the red carpet and starts to move, sways reminiscent of Martha Graham, sashays from the catwalk, pain etched on his face, there’s much to admire. At times it feels as if he’s performing just for him, rendering the whole set-up a little self-indulgent – but maybe that’s the point. Kelly Apter