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When it comes to dance and physical theatre it is not exactly business as usual in Grahamstown this year.
The French Season in South Africa is part of the reason why the 38th edition of the national Arts Festival has an international flavour.
Apart from the official offerings, the calibre of Reunion Island’s Theatre TaliIpot’s !Aia (created in our Cradle of Humankind world heritage site); Mathilde Monnier and Jean-Francois Duroure’s reconstruction of their 1984 duets Pudique Acide/Extasis; Phia Ménard’s The Non Nova Company’s Vortex and Afternoon of a Foehn (both programmed for the 15th Lyon Biennale de la danse to be held in September), South Africans have plenty to offer.
Like Steven Cohen’s The Cradle of Humankind which premiered at the Pompidou Centre last October. Billed under Performance Art this live art work, in the Rhodes Theatre, pairs the now French-based Joburger with long-time collaborator and retired nonagenarian domestic worker, Nomsa Dhlamini.
Cohen’s programme note spells out his intentions: “Maybe in these caves were the first performative actions.
“I wanted to work there and represent it because this site proves that we are all African, even though Africa is not seen as contributing to civilisation.
“But in this piece I’m also talking about the Africa that has been raped and plundered, about colonisation, slavery, Saartjie Baartman.”
Equally provocative will be Brett Bailey and Third World Bunfight’s Exhibit A which echoes these same themes and the still taboo topic of 19th-century human zoos which amused European and American audiences.
Traditional viewing space is severely disrupted in several productions.
Notably in Gavin Krastin, Alan Parker and contemporary artist Rat Western’s installation Discharge, which is presented under The First Physical Theatre Company banner in an airplane hangar at the First City Regiment’s military base.
The five labyrinthine evening performances will be accompanied by guerrilla street-theatre interventions at several Grahamstown sites.
Choreographed by Krastin and Parker, and designed by Krastin and Western, this sensory adventure is set in “an imagined post-apocalyptic environment”.
Audiences are challenged to be flexible because: “At the core of Discharge is the notion of the displaced body – the body that does not belong in its space, or that feels foreign or ill-at-ease in its location.
“Whether this is the body of a refugee, a prisoner, a quarantined or a diseased body, the lost or abandoned or a socially unacceptable body – the experience of being out of place is a common one and a condition one can identify with.”
The large cast is spearheaded by Andrew Buckland, Parker, Krastin, Western and Maxwell Farouk.
The indefatigable Professor Buckland is also performing in Ubom!’s Through Blue directed by the esteemed Rob Murray.
Though presented at the Monument complacency is also banished for Re-FRESH.
Expect to peer through car windows for Leán Coetzer’s revved up My Sound Is Too Big for This Confined Space, or look through cracks of a corrugated iron shack to glimpse a slice of all-too-real life in Tebogo Munyai’s Right Inside.
Performances by dancer-choreographers from the Western Cape, Durban, Joburg and Benoni will place concepts and choreography in unusual spaces and contexts.
While Bailey Snyman, the Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance 2012, is presenting his commissioned work in a more conventional set-up, at Alec Mullins, the subject matter is far from mundane.
Moffie, inspired by André Carl van der Merwe’s 2006 novel, revisits apartheid South Africa in the 1980s when white males were conscripted by the South African Defence Force.
If they happened to be homosexual chances were they would end up in Ward 22 where electro-shock therapy and sex change operations were actually practised.
The choreographer (a Wits School of Arts lecturer named as one of the Mail&Guardian 2012 top 200 young South Africans) is dancing along with his Matchbox Theatre Collective co-founder Nicola Haskins, Richard Gau, Jarryd Nurden, Stefania du Toit and Lara Spence.
For the Fringe, Snyman and Haskins have created works for Northern Dance Project’s In Situ and a collaboration for Oakfield College Dance Department’s The Genesis Project.
Haskins has also choreographed Chasing, a solo based on the tempestuous life and times of poet Ingrid Jonker for the University of Pretoria Drama Department Company.
Connoisseurs will have earmarked Vincent Mantsoe’s Soweto memoir Opera for Fools, Athena Mazarakis and Hansel Nezza’s Inter.Fear, Athi-Patra Ruga and Mikhael Subotzky’s Performance Obscura, Nicola Elliot’s Fragile, and Sylvaine Strike-Nakar’s ReVerse starring Craig Morris and Greg Melvill-Smith.
Those in the know will highlight Swiss import Cindy van Acker’s Lanx and Obtus as well as Flatfoot, Moving Into Dance Mophatong and Vuyani Dance Theatre’s double bills.
And watch out for Toni Morkel, Fred Koenig and Nadine Hutton’s streetwise Nounouche’s Sideshow.