Unlimited Festival: Saturn Returns at Southbank Centre
Saturn Returns is a moving, breathing choreopoem, written and directed by Sonny Nwachukwu. Dance, spoken word and music are the tools, and Ada and Obi (Rudzani Moleya and Durassie Kiangangu) are the characters journeying through past, present and future. The piece explores the psychospiritual clashes instilled in Black people by the weight of history, wrapping modern psychological issues in the spiritually affirming circularity of a prominent feature of the Igbo people’s mythology: rebirth along family lineage.
Bulbs are hung over a hazy, blue-lit stage; downstage are two wooden bowls, and further upstage, a confession box between two chairs. The performers’ first movements are elemental, tender and liquid as their bodies mimic water patterns with ripples through the chest and whirlpool pathways. This quality is blended with pounding, earthbound steps, with deeply bent knees and a rooted, tribal rhythm that is extremely inviting.
Spoken word is the backbone of the piece, which unfolds like a narrative, though not a linear one. Time is fluid; Ada and Obi are reborn as different people, with different meaning to each other. At times they are conflicting, mocking like teenagers, at other times lovers, or remembering when they almost were. In one moment, they meet for the first time again. The poetry here is achingly beautiful: “I gravitate towards you like a flock of birds, in each and every life”. They are bound always by a shared ancestry – one of suffering. For context, the Igbo Landing was a mass suicide by captive Igbo people in 1803. After taking control of their ship and refusing to submit to slavery, the slaves walked freely, at last, into the ocean to their deaths, singing, “The water brought us here and the waters will take us back.”
A poignant moment is the “weight game”. The pair throw an invisible heavy weight back and forth, knees buckling as they catch its imagined mass, whilst they speak of trivial tasks that must be completed, like tweeting, rather than dealing with the “weight”. Modern-day priorities are rightly ridiculed as absurd, considering the critical issues at play. Once the wittiness of this moment has been acknowledged, its irony rings painfully, shamefully true.
The last portion of the piece is a serene yet emotionally charged gift-giving ritual, in which orange dust is scattered on the stage. Through graceful, rhythmical gestures (this time to distant tribal singing) Ada and Obi find peace, even exultation, though, as we come to learn, their anguish is never far away. Always remembering the pain of their ancestors, they go “round and round”. Not long before, they were flailing and spiralling, chanting those words, giddiness morphing into horror at the body and soul stuck in this cycle.
In cyclical nature, Ada and Obi are dragged through a time tunnel, reliving their experiences, and audiences are offered a fast-paced kaleidoscope of moments seen in greater depth earlier on. Whether they are in past, present of future is uncertain, but their journey has not been for nothing – as Ada claims, “Our knowing will set us free”. Saturn Returns is complex and burdened story, but Moleya and Kiangangu share something simple that asks humbly for attention and empathy. Their dance is organic, the poetry intrinsic, and their connection pure, and it is this that holds them – and those witnessing – together in the space.
Saturn Returns is at Southbank Centre from 7th September until 8th September 2022 and available online from 12th until 15th September 2022. For further information or to book visit here.
Unlimited Festival (featuring creative projects by disabled artists and companies) is on at the Southbank Centre from 7th until 11th September 2022. For further information visit here.