Review: Joseph Toonga’s Born to Manifest

Joseph Toonga - Born To Manifest (c) The Other Richard

Joseph Toonga’s Born to Manifest is an extraordinary piece of work, set to an original score from Michael ‘Mikey J’Asante. The stark reality of the experience of young black British men, performed by two black dancers left the packed audience at Dance East, Ipswich in a dark and difficult place. The standing ovation given for the sheer physicality of the performers; their power and stamina and astonishing technical ability; rather than the theme of the piece. I sincerely hoped this was so for we, as a mainly white audience, were surely implicated in this history of oppression and prejudice played out on the stage.

The two dancers told and retold their story of fear, entrapment, misunderstanding and the struggle for identity. It was a journey that the audience could hardly bear to follow or even hope to comprehend. We were mostly outsiders, passive observers of their pain. At times the dancers mimicked apes, calling out for freedom or crying for home. And as we sat watching we became increasingly hot and increasingly uncomfortable. There were moments of tenderness, of holding, supporting and carrying but these gave only momentary relief to balance the weight of the story. 

This was an uncompromising work; a bald statement of fact that left some of us feeling ashamed and with nowhere to hide. On my own quiet journey home, I felt I wanted to sit within this dark space, to try to enter the sadness of the lives portrayed. But this was not about me or who I am or even what I think. Perhaps this was not asked of me, perhaps this was my presumption, my disquiet that I could ever truly understand, stuck as I am in my own white identity; an aging woman in an ageist society.

Reviewed on the 4th of October at Dance East Ipswich