Review: The Body Remembers

RAZZ’s BAME officer Ana Anajuba reviews Heather Agyepong’s solo dance performance which took place at Exeter’s Phoenix earlier this month.

Created and performed by artist, dancer, and actor Heather Agyepong, The Body Remembers is an innovatively interwoven piece of theatre that utilised visual and audio elements to present a deep exploration of trauma and movement within the body, specifically in Black British women. It delves deep into different generations, based on the restorative and healing practice of Authentic Mover in therapy. With Agyepong as The Mover, the audience collaboratively acted as The Witness encouraged to observe and relate to the painstakingly crafted movement that she engages in.

The beginning of the performance was unlike anything I had ever experienced before: the audience was encouraged to sit anywhere in the room, including the floor which had cushions on it, and paper and pencils were placed next to the seats. It was clear from the outset that this was supposed to be a symbiotic experience where the audience was more than just allowed – but actively urged – to immerse themselves and relate their own experiences to the piece.

At first there were sudden repetitive movements, like puppetry, relating to the themes of bodily autonomy and loss of control. Agyepong seemed to be in her own world, her eyes closed, and movements deliberate, she truly appeared to have only her body engaging in the physical world. The lighting was spectacular. Featured only in black and white, the background moved to highlight Agyepong’s wonderful utilisation of space and the general stage. The powerful collection of words spoken by various women – about the pain their body has been through, about being seemingly at odds with all that protects any of us from the brutality of the outside world – was at times difficult to listen to. Unfortunately, often ignored by both medical professionals and wider society, it can be easy to place the mind at odds with the body. As the unknown women – who could be any of us – spoke, Agyepong mimicked their words visually, as though she was merely a representation of their bodily trauma.

The performance was clearly unconventional: the mixing of modes created something that could be described as unusual. And there were times where I felt lost and confused. It certainly raised the question of the purpose of art: is it meant to be understood; must it be purposeful; is it for the performer or the viewers? Does any of those questions actually matter?

At the end of the performance the audience was allowed to look at objects laid out at the back of the stage. There were many things: self help novels, including The Body Keeps Score by Besser van der Kold, MD; a bag of lavender; a bottle of lavender essential oil; two soft white pillows; and a wide array of medication. These are all things meant to address the trauma of the mind and the pain of the body that had no choice to remember.

The performance certainly moved me to a degree. It certainly moved many members in the audience. Words like ‘incredibly powerful’, ‘brave’ and ‘effective’ were used. One viewer said that it was ‘most striking at its simplest’. These remind me of the aforementioned questions, and I may have an answer. They do not matter. This spoke to people in ways that words alone never could.

— Ana Anajuba

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