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  • Miles Hedley

EN ROUTE in Woolwich

Protein Dance’s latest creation, En Route, is a dazzling investigation into the possibilities of live performance. Its essence is, as ever, the choreographic vision of the company’s luminary Luca Silvestrini. But it’s so much more than that too, encompassing what it is to be human, the importance of community, the fragile beauty of the environment and the realities – from joyful to tragic – of quotidian life. As its premiere proved, it’s an investigation that succeeds triumphantly.

Over the course of three hours, a gifted troupe of eight dancers and five musicians led small groups of the audience on foot from Woolwich Common to the Thames riverside at the Royal Arsenal, dancing, singing, mumming and storytelling along the way while encouraging us to immerse ourselves in the performance through movement, meditation, affirmation and engagement.

The promenade began beside the busy South Circular where, counterintuitively, we were urged to consider the efficacy of silence. We paused to pay our respects at the roadside shrine to a teenage murder victim before moving deep into the common, where the suburban din of Woolwich slowly subsided into a stillness of lush greenery and dazzling wildflowers.

The audience groups coalesced as we emerged from the common and headed for the fabulous façade of the Royal Artillery HQ where, in a scene that reminded me of the cult movie The Wicker Man, we passed in pairs under arches created by the dancers to the sound of trumpet, drum, tuba, trombone and saxophone before the performers paraded across the grass first as animals and then as soldiers. It was a masterclass in site-specific theatre.

The action moved to the gorgeous ruins of St George’s Garrison Church before we processed down Grand Depot Road to the uplifting sounds of New Orleans jazz while dancers gyrated on rooftops, in stairwells and on pavements.

At General Gordon Square the mood of celebration turned to anger as the dancers took up megaphones and yelled messages of protest against the forces of oppression in a cacophony of rage that slowly came together in shouts of No!

But the fury passed as quickly as it had appeared and, to the delight of drinkers outside a local pub in the town centre, dancers Anders Duckworth, Rachele Rapisardi, Folu Odimayo, Temitope Ajose-Cutting, Eryck Brahmania, Sophie Arstall, Kenny Wing Tao Ho and Sonya Cullingford swept onwards to the Royal Arsenal where, as darkness fell, the performance ended in a free-for-all of Latin rhythms played by Toril Azzalini-Macheclar (percussion), Ruby Barber (trumpet), Anna Carter (tuba), Wilf Diamond (trombone) and George Garford (sax).

After so many months of lockdown isolation, this was a wonderful way to revive our spirits, bringing together people in a celebration of resilience, the arts and togetherness. It was also a celebration of Woolwich itself and the human and ecological diversity to be found there. And it was another huge success to be added to Protein’s already impressive CV.

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