Biko’s Quest

DIRECTOR: Mandla Mbothwe

CHOREOGRAPHERS: Jacqueline Manyaapelo, Ina Wichterich-Mogane and Mzokuthula Gasa

CAST: An ensemble cast of 16

VENUE: The Artscape Theatre

UNTIL: Sunday


Steve Biko wrote what he liked. Through the bodies of the dancers on the stage, so did the Jazzart Theatre Company. In Biko’s Quest, some of the Black Consciousness leader’s most well-known quotes are brought to life.

It kicks off with the cast sitting on chairs in a dark room, flashlights in hand, delivering lines like: “You are either alive and proud, or dead. And when you are dead, you can’t care either way.” They take turns, each one shining a light to their faces, saying different quotes and dancing while seated. And then someone starts to sing.

If you’re going into the production cold and aren’t too sure what the story is, but are familiar with the life of Biko, this sombre singing sets a tone of sadness. Thankfully, this quickly changes into a Sophiatown-esque scene – once the cast have stripped off their clothes (on stage) and slipped into attire from a bygone era.

The 1960s dance moves are flashy and the scene is long enough to savour. But we know how the story goes, and if you don’t the iconic soundtrack at the time – Dolly Rathebe singing about white people wanting black people to move to Meadowlands – gets the cogs into motion.

The bum jive is sexier here and morphs into a more contemporary routine complete with graceful leaps.

From the start, Biko’s ideals are put into context through a concise revisiting of history. Set at a typewriter and boldly declaring other Biko quotes, a young girl in uniform is the main vessel through which the story is told.

Her being carried in someone’s arms as another person squirms in horror recreates the Hector Pieterson photo in an uncanny way. And in case you miss it, they do this action a few times. Repetition is one of the downsides of Biko’s Quest.

At times, it feels like it milks the emotional trigger to a point where it becomes annoying.

But the incorporation of other detained anti-apartheid activists who were killed are also given recognition and spoken of by name and that’s refreshing.

The production ties in with the upcoming The Quest for a True Humanity photographic display that was created by the Steve Biko Foundation, the Department of Education and the Apartheid Museum and will be displayed at the Steve Biko Centre where the Biko’s Quest production opened.