Evaluating Foreign Bodies: An Underwater Love Story

I am extremely grateful to Arts Council, to all Trinity & Metal who housed us during this R&D and to every single artist involved.

Best moments included:
The underwater fotoshoot at a pool near Bristol with Jessica Mitchell
The sharing and meal at Metal
Bringing the entire cast for dinner at St Mary’s Kitchen in Bristol: a delicious Caribbean restaurant
The sharing in Bristol with audience participation.

This project supported by Arts Council was phase two of R&D for dance theatre piece FOREIGN BODIES: An underwater love story, which explores the experience of ‘other’ – BAME people, and other marginalised groups, to ask what is gained and lost through integration.

Using the metaphor of Jellyfish, we created an underwater love story and quiz show to celebrate us! A story that crosses borders and oceans to explore what divides and what unites us. Timely in the wake of Brexit and a global refugee crisis, the piece comments on the power of language and how disenfranchised groups have been used and misplaced.

In particular, I used this time to interrogate the story line, working for the first time with an actor: The amazing Milton Lopes, to put together the first draft of a script (with the help of Dr Edson Burton) and we also refined the full hour production of music, dance and word. It was great to see the humour come alive with actor Milton Lopes.

I worked with an awesome team: Lucia Afonso, Elsabet Yonas, David Evans, Isaac Ouro Gnao, Franck Arnaud Lusbec and Milton Lopes, who described the work as:

“a really unique approach to a political and complex subject matter” “The quiz show concept is genius”
“a human dive in to a multi-sensory experience of dual parallels & contradictions”

“Powerfull and emotive!”

“Funny! and Endearing!”

”We have created a mirror for the audience”

“We have created a hybrid of two worlds – one more familiar than the other – but both options that resonate and exist within them”

I also worked with dramaturgy Luke Pell (supported by South East Dance) and Edson Burton (Trinity) and musician Sabio Janiak.

This phase also enabled me to hold an underwater photoshoot for the promotional material of the work and to develop costumes and music.

I held a sharing in week one at Metal, then an invite only preview and live stream at Trinity Centre in week two. The invite only preview also included a post show talk with feedback. The audience used an app to interact with the quiz, meaning I could understand how they might answer the quiz show long term.

Next, I will develop the quiz show responses to show up on stage using a lightbulb design in real time, heightening the audience experience and understanding of the topics in a fun, safe and anonymous way.

We took a tour of Bristol with Edson Burton, and this helped find ideas for the work, for example around the debates in Bristol about Edward Colston and the covering up of or erasing of aspects of h(is)(er)story.

We also held a public crowdfunder: raising £350, and held workshops in both cities, and we also performed extracts for Croydon Dance Festival in London, and the Festival of Audacity in Birmingham.

This experience served to strengthen my belief in creating from a space of connectivity to self and purpose, and in my strengths as a leader. I am going to bring forward this holistic approach to creativity, as I really clarified that this is how I and company members make the best work. One of the areas I was unsure of was how to hold the space for healing and open up important questions: the ‘Elephants in the room’. This is actually one of my skills.

I also learnt and gained insight into how to be better in terms of protecting the wellbeing of the artists and myself with Selfe:A company who work with clients & dancers to build strong bodies & enable clients to feel self-accomplished & self-empowered. I realized I could create a great working environment and also respect my own wellbeing.

I had had many fears around the photoshoot underwater: coming up against a few setbacks with venue, worrying for the safety for the artists, and the additional expenses of lights, and the underwater set, but the final shoot was wonderful: the images are incredible and it was a wonderful last day of the whole process.

The biggest impact that I see is that I gained clarity on the piece and how to talk about it, realizing that the piece is Foreign Bodies is a multi-sensory experience: an underwater love story and a quiz show that crosses borders and oceans to challenge the human narrative, looking to nature to to ask what is gained and lost through integration.

I further understood and was able to express myself with regards to the work we make here at Ella Mesma Company as diaspora dance theatre: recognizing that the roots of these folkloric dance styles lie in Africa, and that I am also making a new journey which is really about the mixed heritage of the company members. I further understood and realised my desire to make work that undoes limiting beliefs and celebrates cultural and social identity in this R&D: creating clarity in the text in the script and deepening my understanding of the underlying message in the work which is around promoting love and respect for difference, which also helps me clarify my next projects and my role in the world as an artist.

By performing extracts: We took the work to Birmingham as part of the Festival Of Audacity, taking two of the company: Isaac Ouro Gnao and David Evans, and with three dancers at the Croydon Dance Festival, and I discovered that I will be able to also offer a small and large scale version of the piece.

One of my learnings was I realised the scale of technology, and decided to cut back and make a longer term investment into this, coming up with plans for a set that can have a simpler technological device.

Going forward, I will be building a Scaleable version of the set and technology in partnership with Gentleman Octopus Limited.

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August Updates

Ẹ n lẹ, Salut, Olá,  你好, Hello Creative Being,

It is my pleasure to see you here and share our news

My news? After feeling like I moved a mountain with all the creations of July, I experienced a pretty epic foot injury and have been healing for August: perhaps a welcome break after July’s adventures below, and also teaching me the gifts of surrender and what amazing friends I have!

Also below are some up coming workshops which I am moving to my sister company Maya Gandaia: sign up for newsletters which will focus solely on workshops, retreats and coaching.

Sending Love and Creativity!

Ella xxx

Ladylike in London
The new cast had a beautiful run in London at Casa Festival with some nights sold out, a standing ovation and some lovely reviews (links here & here)
Are you a hero? Or feeling a bit chicken? Ladylike is a super-heroines journey in which four warrior women use hip hop theatre and sexually charged Rumba to take a fierce, frank and funny look at gender roles and transform their deepest fears and desires, stepping out of their stories into a new reality united as a sisterhood.

Ladylike began its journey at Casa Festival in 2015 and premiered at Sadler’s Wells in 2017. The show has also been performed at Richmix, London (2017),Trinity Centre, Bristol (2018), The Women’s Leadership Conference, New York City, (2018), VAULT Festival London (2018), IETM, Hull (2019), Offbeat Festival, Oxford (2019), Dance City, Newcastle (2019), and was runner up in the Lukas awards  for Best Production (2018). It was beautiful to come full circle and bring the piece back to Casa Festival last month!

Foreign Bodies in Birmingham
We had a beautiful time performing extracts of our Jellyfish Love Song (An extract from our newest show Foreign Bodies) in Birmingham as part of the Festival of Audacity.
Foreign Bodies is an underwater love story and quiz show that crosses borders and oceans to explore what divides and what unites us, and our awesome dancers: Isaac Ouro Gnao and David Evans (plus myself on the mic!) presented At Birmingham New Street Station
…the trailer from our R&D is almost ready…
The Masks We Wear
Photo by Ben Farman
These 5 superheroines performed to an audience of 1000 at Millennium Square as part of Vamos Festival. Funded by Leeds Inspired, the project explored ‘The Masks We Wear’: the performance we put on in life and our public and private identity through dance and costume.

Watch the full show here

Join us for NYE in Thailand
YES to spending NYE in a 5* homestay in Thailand!

YES to passing NYE with beautiful creative beings practising yoga, the PathFor series, setting intentions and eating divine healthy food!

I have moved all our PathFor Series and workshops over to Maya Gandaia where I will focus on wellbeing.

Subscribe or read the latest newsletter at the website or read about Thailand and the Earlybird rates here

Adiós, Adeus, ìkíni ti ìpínyà, Au Revoir, 再见, Much love,

Ella xxx

And from the whole team:

Anna, Azara, Hsing Ya, Lucia, Rachel, David, Franck, Milton, Isaac, Elsabet, Jemma, Pareesha, Cherie, Isabella, Farida, Laura (and everyone else from the Ella Mesma Company family: we wish you the all the best!)

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“An absurd, comical, and emotionally charged ritual of dance theatre” (Bristol 24/7)

“An absurd, comical, and emotionally charged ritual of dance theatre” (Bristol 24/7)

LADYLIKE explores sisterhood, softness, sanity and sexuality through a range of different dance styles, Latin music, and theatre.  all takes place within a chicken-feed circle marking the female space of the ‘chicks’. This space is both animalistic and soft, powerful and vulnerable and within it typical female tropes and professions are played out sometimes with humour, sometimes with sensitivity and other times with violence.

Disturbing scenes which pick apart the nuances of desire and consent, sex and violence are made palatable by inverting key symbols of vulnerability: gender is fluidly played with and characters are dressed, as opposed to undressed, in scenes of violence. This seemed an action of solidarity and protection between fellow females, although of course it also resembled the multiple masks and costumes forced upon us.

Two females dancing bachata, deeply in sync, with curiosity and desire fuelling their curvaceous, rolling movements was sensual and stunning, questioning Latin American and worldwide gender structures. This was only one example of many which run through the 55-minute piece.
Humour reigned in a comedic look at the way women pamper and prepare themselves – expect oregano and salt to replace shampoo and shower gel!
Ultimately it is sisterhood which brings positivity, vibrance y un poco de perreo to this fantastic performance, with a diverse soundtrack that elicits myriad dance styles and the breadth to unchain ourselves.
CASA festival is on for another week with #theatre, #film, #dance and #music

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Ladylike at CASA Festival Review

Ladylike at CASA Festival of Latin America Art. Guest Review

17th July 2019

Two female dancers, the front holding voluminous skirts and dancing while looking down, the back one dressed in red and dancing with hunched shoulders in the back. You can just about see another person behind them, but not what they are doing or anything significant.

Ella Mesma (left) and Azara Meghie (right) in one of the first performances of Ladylike at the Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London. (c) Camilla Greenwood 2015

There were two shows, on the opening night of the 2019 CASA Festival of Latin American Artis in London. Of course I choose the dance piece Ladylike. The production performed by Ella Mesma Company combines traditional female gender roles with sexuality and high-quality dancing.

African-Caribbean sounds come together with Hip-Hop and Rumba to create an interesting fusion of music and modern dance. The four actresses involved in the piece showcase their dancing skills by switching from Latin Dance, to Hip-Hop, Breakdance and Contemporary Dance.

Like a Lady: Ladylike

The topic behind the story is based on the #metoo movement and looks at gender roles from different perspectives. Locked up by a circle of chicken food, are four women (‘chicks’) displaying aspects of the traditional perception of women: cleaning duties, grocery shopping and cooking, sexuality and beauty. One of the four appears like a man in most scenes showing the relation between the two genders that is mainly influenced by sexual attraction shown in offensive movements, gazing at the other gender and taking control whilst dancing together.

From the first scene on, sexuality plays an important role and is displayed on stage in such a way that makes me understand why there’s an age restriction. Towards the end it grows into a cry for help from the audience. Every scene is self-explanatory and combines a serious topic with both charm and wit. An example: when was the last time you indulged into a sexy shower of chicken soup and washed your hair in herbs? The show turns very serious at the end, by raising questions of consent and control over the female body.

We were captured by their stunning display of skills on this, the opening night. It might have been due to personal experience, but every woman has probably experienced something similar and can therefore easily relate to the scenes and feelings involved. Just in case there’s anybody in the audience who can’t relate, engagement is encouraged by eye contact between performers and audience, or by making us move their feet out of the way to sweep the floor.

Talented dancers and a convincing message

The talented dancers of the Ella Mesma Company display a wide range of dance styles in Ladylike, and each uses all the opportunities each style offers. They keep the audience engaged and interested throughout the piece and transmit a convincing message that everybody can relate to.

The piece was shown at the Arcola Theatre for the opening night of CASA – London’s festival of Latin American Arts. The whole festival still runs until 27th July 2019 with three more dates for Ladylike at the Arcola Theatre:

  • 18th July 2019 at 7.30 p.m.
  • 19th July 2019 at 7.30 p.m.
  • 20th July 2019 at 7 p.m.

The whole festival program includes other theatre shows, parties, dance and open air. For more details visit https://casafestival.org.uk/.


Ladylike is created and produced by Ella Mesma Company, a British based dance theatre company who use a diverse range of folkloric dancestyles inspired by director Ella Mesma’s background in Afro-Latin, Breaking and Contemporary dance. The performance has evolved over time, and the originals were forerunners of the #metoo movement by several years.

(editor)  Written by SEO expert Julia-Carolin Zeng

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