Spirit of Modern London; Feast, Rufus Norris's Dance, Theatre and Film Fusion, Spotlights the Yoruba Faith, Taking a Spectacular Journey from Nigeria across the Atlantic and Back to the Young Vic, Says Liz Hoggard

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Byline: says Liz Hoggard

IT'S very hard to represent slavery in away that isn't cliched," director Rufus Norris tells me. "You have images, moments you Y like, but as soon as you put them up, you think, 'Oh God, that really is terribly naff '. But this isn't a play about slavery, it's about survival, in the broadest sense, and celebration."

" We're in a chilly studio in west London watching a group of actors, dancers and musicians rehearse the YY ung Vic's new epic, Feast, about the voyage of the Yoruba diaspora from Y southern Nigeria across the Atlantic and back again. Feast travels from 18th-century Nigeria, via Cuba and Brazil, to contemporary London. It has been created by playwrights from five countries where the f Yoruba Y legacy has had great impact on life today: Yunior Garcia Aguilera (Cuba), Y Rotimi Babatunde (Nigeria), Marcos Barbosa (Brazil), Tanya Barfield (US) and Gbolahan Obisesan (UK).

In the opening section of the play, written by Babatunde, we meet three sisters (played by Noma Dumezweni, Michelle Asante and Naana Agyei-Ampadu) incarnating three Yoruba Y divinities, or Orisha. They are on their way to a feast when they are separated at a crossroads by Esu, the trickster god (played by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith). It takes them four centuries -- and incredible adventures -- to be reunited in modern-day London.

Part road-movie, part dancetheatre piece, Norris's goal with Feast is to create seamless "transitions" between the five stories, using live music, projection and choreography. The cast need to become a chain gang, a congregation, even civil rights activists at a moment's notice. This approach is in keeping with the YoY ruba belief in reincarnation, that when you die, you enter the realm of the ancestors and still have influence on earth.

"The circle of life is present in everything," says Norris, who is keen to have this "cosmology" close to the surface of the play. "Increasingly the work I'm drawn to is about rootlessness. Your home is your Y culture but your belief system is something you carry with you. And that, in a way, is what the piece is about." The multi-award-winning theatre director of Festen, Vernon God Little, London Road and Dr Dee partly grew up in Nigeria when his civil servant father was posted to Africa. In 2009 he directed Death and the King's Horseman at the National about the end of British colonialism in Nigeria, and has long been fascinated by the vast numbers of descendants of YoY ruba slaves stolen away from Nigeria and now scattered around the globe.

In fact the enforced dispersal of Nigerian captives played a critical role in broadcasting the Yoruba faith Y (known as Ifa) across the Atlantic. Slaves would disguise their Orishas as Catholic saints in order to preserve their ancestral beliefs. Today many people in Latin American countries such as Cuba and Brazil pay homage to the same deities as the Yorubas. Y Many of the cast and crew of Feast have Yoruba ancestry -- y -- including Cuban choreographer George Cespedes (who has worked with Carlos Acosta), British contemporary dancer Ira Mandela Siobhan (who performed in DV8's Can We Talk About This?), Cuban-born dancer Alexander Varona (formerly a member of the Russell Maliphant company) and Jamiroquai percussionist Sola Akingbola, who is giving traditional Yoruba drumming Y an experimental sonic twist.

A Young Vic and Royal Court coproduction, Feast is part of World Stages London, an unprecedented project where eight London producing venues collaborated on work to mark the Olympic year. But the play's genesis came about in 2007, when Elyse Dodgson, head of the Royal Court international department, was running a playwriting workshop in Nigeria. At the leaving party on the beach, she mentioned their next workshop would be in Cuba, and the Nigerians became very excited because Cubans practise Santeria, the Yoruban belief system that survived the Atlantic slave trade. …