Dance, as it turns out, is the perfect medium for Oliver Twist. To be a pickpocket requires quick movement and sleight of hand, ducking and diving, weaving in and out of crowds; Avant Garde Dance showcase tight, impressive routines with handkerchiefs as Oliver learns his trade, Artful Dodger and his gang working a carefully choreographed waltz around their prey in the streets of Victorian London. Some of the strong visual imagery already associated with the story is incorporated, with top hats and hands held out asking for more. Still, if you’re looking for an adaptation of Dickens’ famous work, look elsewhere. This is an accomplished version of what it is, but what it is isn’t Oliver Twist. Oliver is a vehicle for the story choreographer Tony Adigun wants to tell – one about hard work and being shaped by circumstance.
Fagin’s ‘twist’ isn’t just an alternate ‘take’ on events – it’s almost an entirely new story. To delve deeper into the five central characters – Oliver, the Artful Dodger, Nancy, Bill Sykes and, of course, Fagin – back stories are freshly created or completely reimagined. In the production’s gritty, grim portrayal of London, filled with poverty and sickness, there is, we are told, no space for fairytales. But rather than their exploration of individual motivation adding complexity and depth, one supposedly simplistic narrative arc is exchanged for another. We watch as all the characters initially start off ‘good’, and learn how and why they all turn out ‘bad’– like his orphan ingénue, Fagin also started life in the workhouse, Bill Sykes wasn’t always evil, and even Oliver is found to have a nasty streak.
Pockets of speech introduce and connect sequences, but this is a company that communicates with movement rather than words, and it’s easy to feel impatient for the dance to begin again. It is always worth waiting for. The company’s powerful blend of contemporary and hip hop choreography is completely spell-binding, and the pulsing music so loud that even bodies in the audience begin to feel they are moving. Though dramaturgically sketchy, Fagin’s Twist comes together as a compelling, all-involving performance.
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