MIF23: Benji Reid: Find Your Eyes - stunning originality
Updated: Jul 29
REVIEW By Steve Cooke
PHOTOGRAPHY By Oluwatosin Daniju
Manchester international festival: Benji Reid: Find Your Eyes at Manchester Academy 90 minutes of exhilarating, moving, stunning originality in the form of a combination of photography, dance, theatre, and music.
As Benji Reid and his team left the stage and the rapturous applause died down the person next to me said ‘I have been coming to the festival since 2009 and that was the best thing I have seen!’
Like most of the full-house I was initially unsure about what Find Your Eyes would offer. What is a ‘choreo-photolist’ as Benji Reid describes himself? Apparently, someone who combines photography, dance, and theatre. What we were treated to was 90 minutes of exhilarating, moving, stunning originality.
Benji Reid sat centre stage about to embark on a photoshoot, flanked by two huge screens, his back lit by a single spotlight. With camera in hand, he looks intently at the figures posing under his instructions in front of him. A bell announces Act one, he presses the shutter, a pause, the image he has captured appears in sharp focus on the screens, he glances at it, then on with the next, we are witnessing instant creativity.
Benji Reid has been a famous dancer, a leading member of Soul II Soul, and an early pioneer of hip-hop theatre. Turning away from performance he has taken up photography. MIF Director, John McGrath, now has encouraged and coaxed him back to the stage with this sensational outcome.
Find Your Eyes is a quotation borrowed from the American photographer Alec Soth, interpreted by Benji Reid in this show as about finding different ways to frame and cope with life’s complex challenges, about seeing differently.
His models are three stunningly exceptional dancers – Slate Hemedi (AKA Crazy), founder of Alliance Crew; pole dance champion Yvonne Smink; and Salomé Pressac, who works with Studio Wayne McGregor.
Benji Reid meticulously poses each shot with the dancers using their exceptional physical abilities to shape his vision.
His narrative of battles with mental health told through traumatic personal episodes is soundtracked by dramaturg Keisha Thompson’s varied music from hip-hop beats to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.
Sequences of portraits take us through a rollercoaster of emotions such as Slate Hemedi and Salomé Pressac depicting joy to resistance, anger, and sorrow, as Benji Reid choreographs with almost whispered, but clearly heard instructions.
Each meticulously-set image is immediately delivered in magnification on Ty Green’s set, complemented by Tupac Martir’s atmospheric lighting, with props precisely placed by choreographed studio assistants.
Three acts and 90 minutes fly by with each scene becoming more elaborate, the donning of fantastical, futuristic costumes, Salomé Smink as a human kite, breathtakingly holding position as a wind machine blows around her, Salomé Pressac, uncannily communicating sadness, lying on a light box, racked with pain, the heart-breaking story of his stroke-inflicted mother, tapping out her messages to the gods: “Come and save me” a god appears; she is resurrected.
In Find Your Eyes Benji Reid has transmuted his personal vulnerabilities into stunning art.
We have been privileged to see this engrossingly moving metamorphosis unfold before our eyes.
I hope that this is just the beginning of choreo-photalist Benji Reid’s work and that opportunities are created for many more people to experience what we have just witnessed.
Thanks to John McGrath and MIF for making Find Your Eyes possible.