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Bringing the streets to the stage, the stage to the streets, are invaluable attributes of SA contemporary dance.
Conceptual choreographers, the calibre of Boyzie Cekwana, Sylvia Glasser, Alfred Hinkel, Lliane Loots, Dada Masilo, Gregory Maqoma, Robyn Orlin and Jay Pather among them, have landscaped aesthetics and ingeniously articulated socio-political issues without being literal or didactic.
Their dance-making continues to express ideas and reactions fused with cultural, artistic and technical essences.
In this respect this past week delivered fresh, highly topical insights into the SA zeitgeist.
For a single show at Dance Umbrella 2 @ Arts Alive, Vincent Sekwati Koko Mantsoe gave the Joburg premiere of his latest solo Skwatta.
A ghostly figure draped in white cloth stands at the corner of the small Space.Com Joburg Theatre stage. A golden blanket ripples against a neutral stage cloth. Very slowly a face then, ankles, then a body is revealed, and humanised, through Serge Damon’s painterly lighting and Mantsoe’s masterly movement.
To a collage of local and international music (not an ideal score) Mantsoe harnesses familiar motifs from his original 20-year-old solo Gula, and other signatures, as he emotionally embodies the frustration, the agonies of the exploited, the homeless, the displaced.
This combustible physicality, grounded in stark simplicity, is textured with gestures, rhythmic arm weaves and a series of varied highly expressive chest contractions ranging from the most delicate to the violent. This lexicon of traditional African movements is combined with this mature dancer’s seasoned technique to great effect.
Stamps go off like gunshots; lyrical line distorts into spatial calligraphy.
Dignity and beauty filter through the brutality as the man reaches towards the ideal of the golden blanket symbolising warmth, security and cultural identity. Then he vanishes. But not from our memory.
While Skwatta resonates with the Marikana massacre and sporadic service delivery protests across the country, Skwatta has universal relevance because of its poetic potency.
In another part of the city, as part of the Drama for Life Sex Actually Festival, Ntsoana Contemporary Dance Theatre’s Sello Pesa and long-time collaborator visual artist Vaughn Sadie offered three site-specific performances in Jeppestown and City Suburban.
Between was the result of a month-long residency with five Dramas for Life scholars and Wits masters directing candidate Bongi Mazibuko.
Like Pesa and Sadie’s Inhabitant, which surfaced at Joburg’s Dance Umbrella and Istanbul’s iDans 2011, Between interrogates shifting urban narratives of economic and human survival.
In effect this series of negotiations, contradictions and contrasts is life-specific. In performed and spontaneous tableaux, the lines are blurred between the performers, the inhabitants, the visitors.
The title instantly triggers concepts such as: between the social and cultural cracks… the norms… the traffic… the sellers and buyers. The collaboration really gets under the skin of a fragment of a cityscape. The three walkabouts took into account “the spatial and social complexities that make up the area” to reveal “unseen and unheard narratives in the context of the everyday” to understand “how the themes of relationship, intimacy, disease and sex are lived and experience daily”.
During the process the participants garnered valuable research that subtly informed the actual performances at four sites, which changed every night because of who was on the streets. At 5.30pm last Saturday we crossed Main Street from GoetheonMain with Pesa unobtrusively leading the way as Sadie filmed.
Down a deserted side street two guys (Cedric Wembe and Isaac Chidaura) in white surgical masks made an exchange from a back pack. On the corner sat a beautiful fruit vendor (Thoriso Moseneke), selling oranges, condoms and by implication herself. In the park a man (Peter Molefe) and a little boy were interacting and cleaning up with expensive garden trowels and a grass hand broom.
Then as we crossed the road, facing the Hillbrow Tower and Ponte glowing in the dusk, a pack of men confronted us violently. Two young women punched them away. Before us on the sidewalk next to an impeccable tuck shop a woman was shaving meat off a cooked cow’s head (skop).
An image straight out of a Breughel painting framed in an African sunset.
A young woman (Sibongile Bhebhe) pranced from tree to tree on the concrete boxes. An old man in a tattered coat asked Sello Pesa for money. He obliged. In exchange the sage of the streets told his story and how he never, ever, forgot his name. It was his wealth, his pride, his identity.
• During the Danse l’Afrique danse! African contemporary dance festival (September 28 – October 7) Vincent Mantsoe dances Skwatta in the Soweto Theatre complex and Pesa and Sadie present Inhabitant in Newtown and Soweto.