Enowate ★★★★★

World-renowned dancer and choreographer Dickson Mbi brings his first full-length work, Enowate, to Sadlers Wells.

Inspired by a trip from Dagenham to the village in Cameroon where his parents came from, Enowate, is the story of Dickson Mbi reconnecting with an animistic spiritual practice.

Accessing the energy of the rituals of his ancestral home, the performance brings together diverse aspects of Mbi’s world: an African man in the West but also a Westerner in Africa; a contemporary dancer but also a specialist in popping. It’s the coming together of seeming opposites that gives Enowate its unique flavour. 

Ⓒ Nick Thornton Jones & Warren Du Preez

While many dance shows claim to be autobiographical, Enowate really does follow stages of Dickson Mbi’s life. Opening with small dots of light (representing energy or possibly even his DNA) and a soundscape of a heartbeat and whispers increasing, the piece is literally beginning with the start of life.

The initial section sees Mbi growing into his body. His hands explore while he lies in a prone position. They try and fail to lift an inert head. As his limbs begin to take life and is slowly able to get to his feet, one hand remains stubbornly attached to the floor. Even as he masters movement, his hands pull him in different directions, representing the differing influences of his Western life and his African roots. 

Fast forward into a clever section ushered in by children’s rhymes where Dickson’s footballing past (he had trials with West Ham) is playfully explored. Using his hand to become a bouncing football, we see a dance version of keepy-uppy with Mbi balancing the ball on his head and then dribbling with it. Breaking the fourth wall, with the house lights up, Mbi oozes a cheeky charm as we are invited to admire his footy skills. 

After a surprisingly brief section featuring his renowned popping skills, he falls into a disorientating limbo state. To a swirling dark wave synth backing, a cacophony of voices intrude into the smoke-filled stage. A dialogue montage with lines such as “Where am I?”, “Were you born here?”, “No place like home” and “If you can’t pay, we have to take something away” suggest the growing question of identity for Mbi. 

And suddenly we are in the main section of Enowate where Dickson returns to his ancestral roots in Cameroon. With Roger Goula‘s rich and evocative soundtrack becoming an electro growl and Lee Curran‘s beautiful impressionistic and atmospheric lighting, African nature crawls out of the darkness. With Dickson’s head bowed low, his arms and shoulder blades slowly expanding and contracting in the half light. The effect is extraordinary as we forget the dancer and his musculature becomes some primordial creature emerging from the gloom. The lighting tricks the eyes and Dickson’s back is transformed into something animalistic and dangerous. Animal shapes multiply. 

The sublime artistry of the creative team produces a stunning set piece. With a row of lights at the rear of the stage glowing in amber, Mbi is barely glimpsed in silhouette racing past the lights creating an incredible tableau of animals scuttling at dusk. It is the perfect unnerving effect that Dickson, as a Westerner not used to nature as his African relatives, would have felt on his trip.

To a John Carpenteresque electronic melody, Mbi’s arms and legs become indistinguishable. With harsh hand drums building an increasing percussive pulse, Dickson’s tiger-like shaping begins to spin. As the music reaches a thunderous crescendo, and African voices are added in echoey chants, Mbi stands tall in a sepia spotlight, his awakening a vivid and joyous moment. 

A stunning finale is formed as the original constellation of lights projects onto the gauze in front of the dancer. The white lights transform into a tree of energy and then into an animated sketch drawing version of Mbi. Watching both selves, body and animated, dance together and interact as one, is both hypnotic and euphoric. 

In his exclusive interview with The Recs monthly magazine (read here), Mbi said that audiences don’t need to understand the work, he just expressed the hope that they would feel something. Enowate more than achieves that. While choreographing a dance piece about his life, he has actually created something profound about life for all of us. Embracing the inner search for all aspects of ourselves that make us who we are, of surrendering and reawakening, Enowate is a powerful and uplifting experience.

With natural humour, jaw-dropping dance skill and thought-provoking choreography, Dickson Mbi’s Enowate is the kind of inspiring and engaging piece that is essential viewing as part of the Well Seasoned, Sadler’s Wells programme celebrating black creatives. 

Enowate is a unique and memorable work with Dickson Mbi destined for a fascinating future in the dance world   

Enowate Tickets

Enowate plays for one more night (15 October) at Sadler's Wells.

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