MAMELA Nyamza lives up to her first name both off the stage and on it.
Offstage the Gugulethu dancer is quiet and shy and a very good listener and observer. Onstage, she makes her presence felt, jolting people out of their ignorance around what it feels like to be a woman in contemporary society.
She doesn’t just say “listen”, but invites you to feel what it feels like to be her.
Nyamza makes a rare foray onto mainstream theatre stages in Cape Town when she presentsIStand Corrected and Hatched as part of their Women’s Humanity Arts Festival at the beginning of next month.
Hatched is a continually changing performance which brings her now teenage son onto the stage with her. Over the years, as she has grown as a performer, her relationship with him as a mother has changed just as he has grown up and started changing how he interacts with her on stage.
This particular performance is about Mamela the performer, where she is in her life as dancer, singer and mother.
I Stand Corrected is a two- woman collaboration with British/Nigerian writer and performer Mojisola Adebayo which deals with the scary phenomenon of corrective rape.
In her performance pieces Nyamza uses her body to illustrate the role and experience of women in African society, and though classically trained, she draws on all manner of dance forms to express her emotion.
Performing I Stand Corrected outside of South Africa, Nyamza is struck by how so many people have never heard of corrective rape: “At home now, people know because these things happen. Every month you hear about a child being raped, a mother, a lesbian, it’s not only lesbians, it’s women.
“This, at home, is becoming a thing. So when you go to other countries, people cry and they get so sensitive and sentimental about it.
“‘These things are happening,’ they ask.
“So, in a way, we are making an awareness as artists, just showing that these things are happening.
“The reactions are different. Some are shocked and we have to explain and talk about religion, culture, tradition, because it goes to so many things, it even goes to our personal lives. They ask about us and the fact that we are both two women who are out.”
“But, we are not free, we are living like this and this could happen to us,” she said.
Still, Nyamza is not about to keep quiet.
“It’s life, it’s art, it’s what they want to see. I am not going to change anything,” she said.
Nyamza has performed in various places around the world and has a conflicted relationship with the travelling so necessary to get her work out there.
“I love it, I hate it, but I must put food on the table,” she sighed.
Hatched has always incorporated her son into the work, so that is another consideration.
While she prefers to be at home, she also realises what a huge deal it is to expose him to so many different places, so she tries to take him along to at least one new place a year.
This year they travel to Singapore at the end of next month, where she will present Hatched and I Stand Corrected and last year he got to see Paris.
They will be performing at the Singapore International Festival of Arts at the end of next month: “They are celebrating legacies of violence,” explained Nyamza.
There is also a chance to see Toronto, Canada, when she performs at the Spotlight South Africa Festival in April next year, when she will present The Meal and Hatched.
Nyamza is fairly philosophical about how getting older is transforming her work. At 38 she may not be old by anyone’s standard, but the physicality of the work takes its toll: “Some of the works are hard on the body.
“I’m glad I still have the energy to do it.”