Style that still lets the bride shine...
Performance artist Tossie van Tonder is back on stage, this time exploring what the Earth experiences when you remove the posed presence of human thought from its very existence, writes Theresa Smith.
LIVING on a farm, performance artist Tossie van Tonder now finds herself waking up before anyone else: “So, I often just roll out of bed on to the floor to ask: ‘How am I today? How am I in my body today?’, to feel how I am and what is the energetic state of my being, which parts of my body are more mobile, which need more time.
“Gradually I wake up out of that and by the time I’m upright, which is easily an hour later, the birds wake up.
“That’s where I got my idea from. As I did it more and more, I thought, ‘well, this is actually a performance,’” said van Tonder in an interview at Theatre Arts Admin Collective in Observatory.
She was rehearsing to debut What Does the Earth Think it is, Before Sunrise?, a performance piece which reflects her body of work of more than 30 years.
The 50-minute performance is a constant evolution, an expression of Earth moving into a human body that at first is in love with its “body-ness”.
First comes the exploration of desire and Eros before the onslaught and questioning of concepts such as judgement, culture and civilisation.
“Out of that there’s the awareness and then the consciousness of self that then leads to the fact that we are related,” said Van Tonder.
The figure is offered items reflective of civilisation, which it accepts and rejects, until it has to decide how to deal with power.
No one ever quite knows how to cope with the trappings of power or what we would have to sacrifice for that power.
“Does one refuse it? Do you recognise that it is not good for all and everything? Is there humility possible in the face of great power on offer?” were questions Van Tonder pondered as she conceptualised the performance which she presents on stage this week.
“There’s also a lot of how do you relate to yourself as having had power, or still having power in little everyday moments, because there is no place on Earth that deals with power so extrinsically and intrinsically as this country. We have every element to get to know this thing called ‘power’ and how to use that agency when you have it and when you need to know that it is enough.”
Van Tonder has always (she’s been working in this way since 1984) been attracted to this particularly thoughtful way of performance art because of the mental acuity it demands.
“You cannot just do a pretty dance. It has to connect cellularly.”
The piece is not predicated on Van Tonder’s movement alone, with video images of people and places projected on to her body – which will be covered in white clay – and the backdrop.
These images eventually culminate in a galactic view of the stars and planets to create an expansive view: “There is this thing of moving from this animal, back into a human place. But how is this human,” is then the eventual question she is trying to ask, by looking at the Earth as a whole organic being.
“Nowadays we’re in a very disconnected place.”
After the Observatory run, Van Tonder will travel to Namibia to present the piece and launch her book, Nobonke, She of All People, which reflects the time she spent living in that country, drawing on 20 years of keeping a journal.
She will also present the piece at next year’s Dance Umbrella in Joburg.
• What Does the Earth Think it is, Before Sunrise? at Theatre Arts Admin Collective, cnr Milton and Wesley roads, Observatory, from tomorrow to Saturday at 7pm.