He’s Dead review – was Tupac Shakur depressed?

Battersea Arts Centre, London
Inspired by the pain that is audible behind the machismo of the rapper’s music, Malik Nashad Sharpe has created an intriguing show

Was Tupac Shakur depressed? That’s the question that sparked this show about the lauded US rapper, who was murdered in a drive-by shooting in 1996. The show isn’t going to answer that, however. Nor will it give us gangster swagger to the sound of California Love, or anything so obvious. Instead, it’s like a dystopian tour through the imagination of choreographer Malik Nashad Sharpe, who creates performance under the moniker Marikiscrycrycry.

The origin of the piece was Sharpe listening to Tupac’s songs Me Against the World and So Many Tears and being struck by the pain that was not far from the surface, even while the rapper’s legend allows no space for vulnerability. Sharpe’s interest is in the humanisation of black bodies, although what we first see is something alienating. An atmosphere of bleak intensity, oppressive and unsettling. Four dancers in tartan bondage pants, leather and fishnet, like a raid on Vivienne Westwood’s 70s archive, with moves from the lexicon of black dance. Dry ice clogs the darkness, alongside a dense soundtrack that’s on the edge of harassment with its warped snarling voices and mega volume.

Alexander Love, Blue Makwana, Sharpe and Eve Stainton.
Alexander Love, Blue Makwana, Sharpe and Eve Stainton. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The anger is palpable: Sharpe’s body used as a punch bag; an extended brawl; bodies strewn on the floor. At the climax all that aggression becomes a howl from the gut, with Sharpe bent over, long sung notes turning into looped lyrics: “So many tears”; “I’m suicidal”; raw expression and a pretty voice. The fog clears and we finally see a person in front of us.

It’s a confident, original, uncompromising, abstruse performance, unapologetic about taking up space with black and queer bodies, possibly not quite as penetrating as it strives to be, but the work of an intriguing artist to watch.


Lyndsey Winship

The GuardianTramp

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