Dancer, Francis Majekodunmi: BLINK and you’ll miss him

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BLINK Dance Theatre’s FOUR CORNERS is a production which weaves together dance, original live music and storytelling, to tell the tale of four strangers. It originally played in June 2016 to sell-out audiences, but returns this June and July for a national tour. Kate Lovell speaks to Francis Majekodunmi, co-director of BLINK Dance Theatre ahead of the tour.

Francis Majekodunmi in FOUR CORNERS

Francis Majekodunmi in FOUR CORNERS. Photograph © Yuzuru Masuda

Majekodunmi is facing a relentless schedule over the next fortnight. Running schools’ workshops for BLINK, rehearsing a show with BLINK’s participatory group, WINK Drama Group, performing in a lead role for Amici Dance Theatre, before performing again in BLINK’s FOUR CORNERS at Stratford Circus to kick off a national tour.

His main endeavour is as co-Artistic Director of BLINK Dance Theatre where he works alongside the  co-Directors Delson Weekes, Vicki Hawkins and Katherine Gill. He is working as both performer and choreographer in FOUR CORNERS, a show which follows the journeys of characters loosely based upon the performers’ own lives. Majekodunmi’s story within FOUR CORNERS is both personal and political. His character’s journey is based on his real-life experience of being profiled, then stopped and searched by the police whilst attending his course at Central School of Speech and Drama.

Four performers in FOUR CORNERS

The performers in FOUR CORNERS Photograph © Yuzuru Masuda

“They thought that I was carrying a knife”, but “it’s not a knife, it was my packed lunch from home.”

The experience had a profound impact on Majekodunmi, who felt that his heritage as a Black African is the reason that he was stopped. He hopes that by telling the story of his experience he will encourage people to think twice before they act upon their prejudices.

“Don’t judge black people…don’t judge everybody” is the message at the heart of his own story within the show.

Majekodunmi met his co-directors of BLINK via their shared involvement with inclusive dance company Amici, based at the Lyric Hammersmith. They wanted to found their own company to have the opportunity to direct and choreograph their own work, and to have a focus on engaging young people.

“I’m a performer, I’m a dancer…I’m a teacher. I teach kids…I teach different dances from different countries.”

Fresh from a workshop delivered the morning before we meet, Majekodunmi explains that BLINK deliver multi-sensory workshops, and that “today we did Kenya”. By using feathers, grass skirts, luminous clouds, a spray of tropical rain, Majekodunmi and colleagues create a four-dimensional experience for the young people.

Francis Majekodunmi

Francis Majekodunmi. Photograph © Yuzuru Masuda

Majekodunmi is also involved in leading the participatory arm of BLINK, a group called WINK Drama group.

“You’re gonna like this”, he states before describing his role in the latest Wink production: Duchess Grey, an older woman who “turns into a secret agent”.

When asked where the dancers could go if they wanted to progress from WINK to find professional work, he states the plain truth: “No clue.” It’s a statement to the importance of companies like BLINK, where, he explains, “I’m fully paid”. Whilst there are some fantastic inclusive dance companies making work of incredibly high quality, there are still far too few paid opportunities, particularly for learning-disabled dancers.

But Majekodunmi is, himself, breaking new ground, which may pave the way for others to follow. He is the first learning-disabled facilitator employed by the Mousetrap Foundation, where he led a series of dance workshops in the build up to their production of The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. He is also the first-learning disabled mentor employed as part of the Barbican Box project, where he goes into mainstream schools to teach theatre to young Londoners. And, he’s also a visiting tutor at Central School of Speech and Drama and Goldsmiths College.

He’s keen to share the talents of his co-Directors, too, describing with excitement Delson Weekes’ upcoming Unlimited commission:

“We got more funding for Delson’s album. He’s going to perform his album live, and then it’s going to feature me, Vicki and Kat, and Delson…all of them are going to dance with his songs.”

FOUR CORNERS boiler suits

FOUR CORNERS ensemble scene. Photograph © Yuzuru Masuda

Majekodunmi’s ambitions for his own dance career are global; his dream place to perform would be Las Vegas, partly because of its proximity to his basketball hero Michael Jordan. His love for basketball influences his performative style: “I do bouncing, I do street dance, I do breakdancing.”

His hopes for the future of BLINK itself are astute:

“More shows, more tours…and then go to America, we can go to different countries like India, Pakistan, Nigeria. It’s a shame for me that we don’t have [BLINK dance] in Nigeria, they don’t have these same people there, they don’t have one.”

He notes the lack of visibility that disabled artists have in the countries he would like to visit on tour with BLINK. An inclusive company, with two learning-disabled artists as part of the artistic leadership team, could spark the ambitions and interests of young people in other parts of the world, where companies like BLINK may never have been encountered before.

But before BLINK begin globe-trotting, their journey begins at Stratford Circus with the first performances of their national tour of FOUR CORNERS – don’t miss it.

BLINK Dance Theatre’s FOUR CORNERS is at Stratford Circus on 2 and 3 June, Redbridge Drama Centre on 22 June, before going onto Oxford, Bradford, Hexham and Penzance.