As she brings her experimental dance work VOID to the Fringe, Mele Broomes discusses Made in Scotland, getting personal and finding her community
For Glasgow-based performer and choreographer Mele Broomes, dance has always been about pushing the boundaries of the possible. As the artistic director of V/DA, she's made a name for herself through her explorations into the extremities of movement and the deeply multi-disciplinary nature of her work, which blends notions of theatricality, dance and scenography to startling, disorientating effect. But in VOID, Broomes now engages with something much closer to home.
Loosely based on JG Ballard's novel Concrete Island, VOID centres Broomes' risk-taking choreography against glitch-video and industrial soundscapes to explore liminal spaces and urban paranoia. Since its premiere in 2016, however, Broomes has been redeveloping VOID to reference more explicitly her experiences as a black woman. On reflection, Broomes says it wasn't much of a choice. 'Even though I'm always channelling my identity as a dancer, when it came to getting this Fringe platform, I needed to be clearer – from the music to the physicality to the structure – that this message is from a black female perspective.'
This shift began 18 months ago when Broomes, Ashanti Harris and Rhea Lewis founded Project X, which champions dance and performance within the Afro-Caribbean diaspora in Scotland. Contemporary dance is still seen as a white, Western form and although Project X emerged as a rebuttal to such misconceptions, it also furnished Broomes with a community that provided the safety and scope to explore her identity as a black female dancer. 'Project X made me feel empowered, because I know I have people around me who understand where I'm coming from,' says Broomes. 'Obviously you can have a conversation with people about systematic racism or micro-aggressions, but if you don't live it you can't fully know it.'
VOID explores notions of fugitive space within Ballard's narrative, with Broomes drawing ideas from Fred Moten and Stefano Harney's essay series The Undercommons. 'Concrete Island is a survival story about alienation and urban disaster – VOID still has all those elements, except whose survival story is this? It's still taking the same notions but I'm now owning those notions and those ideas.'
Ballard's character Maitland becomes Broomes' Angela; and whereas a car accident strands Maitland on the derelict land between intersecting motorways, Angela is the agent of her own marooning. Only once Angela is outside the system which dictates reason and logic through a white, male perspective, Broomes explains, can she finally explore her own selfhood and voice. 'Even having a conversation, creating your own groups, is a kind of fugitive space,' says Broomes.
Delving into such fraught issues can take its toll, Broomes admits, wearily. 'Colonialism is this mental disturbance,' she says, referencing Frantz Fanon's seminal 1961 publication The Wretched of the Earth. 'I use that as a reminder that this history has disturbed mine and many others, and that I can create work to use as a channel for my disturbance into the world.'
Into the world she will go – for of the 968 Scottish works at the Fringe this year, VOID is one of the 23 works in this year's Made in Scotland showcase. 'I feel like we worked for it, I feel like we're ready,' she says emphatically. 'I'm really excited to be a part of representing black female dancers in Scotland. It's especially important for our young people that we work with in Project X – like, anything that I do, it gives them confidence in whatever it is that they want to achieve.'
Made in Scotland is not merely a seal of approval, however; Broomes will be given money to travel VOID internationally for the first time. What journey does she envision? 'I don't know!' she laughs. 'To think about the conversations that are potentially going to happen by going to new venues, with other audiences, with other artists, to be able to continue this conversation about identity and experimental dance work – it's super exciting.'
VOID, Summerhall, until 26 Aug (not 20), 7.20pm, £10 (£8).
V/DA and MHz, in association with Feral
Based on JG Ballard's cult novel Concrete Island, Void meshes experimental dance and abstract glitch-video landscapes. Taking in typically Ballardian themes of dystopian worlds, liminal spaces and urban paranoia, Mele Broomes performs risk-taking choreography to the backdrop of…