Perhaps the “X” in No Way Back Company’s new production FrontX denotes its proud and urgent intersectionality. Not just “between hip-hop and contemporary dance, between the street and the stage”, as per the company manifesto, but also between race, gender, class and ability. This Belgian outfit—part of this year’s Wallonia Brussels Selection—interweaves the diversity of its cast into a bellowed statement of intent.
Lead by the charming Iranian-Australian Roya The Destroya (a breakdancer with one leg), the troupe includes: Swedish-Madagascan hip-hop dancer Slowmotion Phax; Kosovan performance artist, pole-dancer and boxer Hello Shelly; the Morocco-born, two-time Belgian beatbox champion Big Ben; Wallonian soprano Aurélie Castin; and street-performing b-boy Micael Anigbe, who hails from the Ivory Coast.
Each is given the space to tell their own story, integrated into a showcase of their disciplines: singing, breakdancing, popping and locking. Most of the show is soundtracked by Big Ben’s extraordinary vocal versatility, as he feeds hip-hop beats and sound FX into a loop machine. “Everything starts with the face,” explains Slowmotion Phax, as he indulges in his beloved past-time of imitating strangers – their expressions, their mannerisms, their “hidden feelings”. Hello Shelly talks of how learning Thai boxing helped her come to terms with her femininity. It’s a study, if not a celebration, of the beauty and strength of everyday people.
It could very easily collapse under all this weight—and, to be clear, the show is perhaps a little rough, a little inconsistent—but it doesn’t. Like Roya The Destroya standing calmly—unassisted—on her one leg, FrontX is an unshakable thing. Homogeny is monotonous; the most beautiful harmonies emerge from truly disparate sounds.