Like so many stories of black-British experience, Whiteout begins with the six dancers shivering against an electronic pulse that seems to scream the word “blizzard”, showering them in icicles. As the soundtrack shifts, so do they, into unison movements that suggest assimilation, before individuals pull away. Once they do, Barrowland Ballet move into more personal territory, a contemplation of bi-racial relationships in which the dancers pair off and seek accommodation within their new couplings, ways to share their cultural backgrounds while maintaining distinct identities.
Choreographer/director Natasha Gilmore began this work thinking about her own experience, particularly as a mother of bi-racial children, and the tone of the resulting work is primarily optimistic. Her children appear in playful films of leapfrogging and rabbit hopping, the adults following their lead; interspersed within Luke Sutherland's restless and inventive soundtrack are folk songs chanted by Jade Adamson and Nandi Bhebhe, weaving African and British roots into a single responsive conversation.
But the group never shy away from portraying the effects on human relations of racist context, as pairs briefly fracture and individual dancers become lost in their own jagged movement. Of these, the most fraught is a scene in which one of the black males thuds and crashes about the stage, holding his head in his hands, while his partner and friends watch, confused and unable to help. It's a reminder of how depression among black men lurks unspoken and often goes untreated.
Whiteout is built as much from a symbiotic relationship between dancers and composer, movement and sound, as it is from thematic idea; yet almost every moment opens up a question. What does it mean when the black female dancer lifts the white male; when the white female dancer stands apart from the group, when the black male dancers square off against each other? It would be easy not to notice the movements that suggest these questions, or to think they had no import, and that in itself delivers a subtle comment on the ways in which racism is dismissed as a matter of perception, rather than a fact that people of colour have to live with. Underlying everything is a sense of longing: that its most positive pictures of racial harmony might be only a few steps away. (MC)
Whiteout is on at 17.00 at ZOO Southside until August 27th. Wheelchair Access, Level Access, Wheelchair Accessible Toilets - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/whiteout
On the stigma of depression within the black community: https://www.artefactmagazine.com/2016/03/19/why-is-depression-stigmatised-within-the-black-community/
And the taboo specifically among African-American men: https://www.lucidatreatment.com/blog/mental-health/african-american-men-depression/
On systemic racism in Britain, how it affects black communities and how to challenge it: http://leejasper.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/racism-is-dividing-britain-and-denial.html
Poet Claudia Rankine on racism and perception: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/27/claudia-rankine-poetry-racism-america-perception
Academic Sara Ahmed on racism and perception: https://feministkilljoys.com/2014/02/17/the-problem-of-perception/