Mercurial, subtle and rousing Starting from First Position is a blend of dance and poetry performed by Nigerian born poet Ben Okri (also 1991 Booker prize winner for his novel, The Famished Road) and dancer Charlotte Jarvis. Okri’s declamatory verse, taken from his collections A Fire in my Head and the epic poem Mental Fight, has the strength of spoken word and the multi-stage setting beneath the towering military barracks of Edinburgh’s castle adds a commanding presence. Despite being poetry with a message, rather than a preacher’s rant, this is more of a charming, rambling conversation between poet and dancer with an insistence that we must learn to listen.
A very Fringe show about speaking your truth.
A beautiful flow of images and exhortations in Okri’s deep and melodious voice are responded to by Jarvis in framentary moves rather than long drawn out choreography. The toing and froing of this poetic-dance is played in bursts, interrupted by pauses to reconsider and chat. We feel this is an improvisation in real time on the various themes of our difficult times: to save the planet, fight ignorance, the need for freedom and ultimately love. There are highlights when poet and dancer both move and speak together, repeating each other’s lines expressing the need for love in a humorous struggle which is part hug, part mock-battle and also a delightful set piece on telling a joke. This humanity and light touch is the essence of the show.
‘A child singing tells us more truth than all the comuniques of the government’ Okri declaims and we do indeed hear a child singing, their daughter, Mirabella, aged 4. This same simplicity has a power to reach millions such as when his poem about the Grenfell Tower fire was shared on Channel 4’s Facebook 600 million times and also retweeted. Here too there are piercing lines of poetry: ‘What if the ghosts of all the (drowned) migrants came to everyone’s house for dinner?’
A clarion wake-up call is literally played on the trumpet live by John Green whilst other music recordings provide a political under-current. Okri’s championing of Africa as ‘a dream not understood’ is here subtly brought in. Things are not what they seem: the hip-hop is by the black Canadian rapper/singer Drake, and what you might think was Mozart turns out to be by the 18th century Chevalier de Saint George, Guadalupe-born, son of a planter and his wife’s slave, considered a rival to Mozart (later forgotten until now) and what sounds like 19th century Romantic period, is in fact by Florence Price, the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer in 1933, who faded into obscurity after her death, but has recently been rediscovered.
For ultimately, this show is not just about doom and gloom, but about hope, how we can change the world. A very Fringe show about speaking your truth. And being in the open air, considering Edinburgh weather, you may need umbrella or hat and sun-screen.