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Hunted review at Lilian Baylis Studio, London – ‘intense and authoritative’

Dorothee Munyaneza in Hunted at Lilian Baylis Studios, Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Caroline Ablain Dorothee Munyaneza in Hunted at Lilian Baylis Studios, Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Caroline Ablain

A throttled wail reverberates through the darkness. The sound morphs into a rich, melodic chant and finally, as solo performer Dorothee Munyaneza emerges into the light, her chant becomes speech. Approaching the audience, she confronts them with her words. Brash and explicit, they are a candid expression of womanhood and sexual desire.

The opening dialogue suggests a strong, defiant woman; a woman who knows and owns her body and her desires. However, Hunted, a collaboration between Maud Le Pladec and Okwui Okpokwasili, is set against a background of misrepresentation, repression and abuse towards women.

As Munyaneza clambers through the audience, she explains the horrifying fact that between the years 1500 and 1660, around 50,000-80,000 suspected witches were executed. Simultaneously, land became privatised and grain hoarded by mercantile classes while the poor starved – the rising of a capitalist, male-dominated system.

Into this sociopolitical context Hunted seeks to reassert the role that these women, labelled witches, held. Munyaneza’s words flow freely, spitting forth anger and defiance, her body language convulsive, as if she is digesting and regurgitating the words she speaks. Her embodiment lends the work a pagan, ritualistic tone, heightened by the haunting notes of the accompanying accordions.

Following a week that sparked a debate in the dance world on the passivity of women’s roles in ballet, here is a work that outs the historical repression of women through power and resilience. Its origins may lie in history but the delivery, and context, are modern day.

Munyaneza’s performance, at once crazy and compelling, casts its own spell. When she leaves the stage, swallowed back into the darkness, her presence – and the echo of her story – remains.

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Intense and authoritative assertion of womanhood