The gripping theatre production ’Dance of the La Gumas; Revolution, Rumba & Romance’, celebrates the life and legacy of literary giant Alex Guma in commemoration of Freedom Month.
The dance piece is a riveting account of the iconic author's writing opposing apartheid.
The La Gumas, like many South African creatives; musicians, poets, and writers were arrested and exiled as their creative work began raising awareness and generating global support for the movement against apartheid.
Starring Rehane Abrahams and Elton Landrew, this dance masterpiece follows the story of a couple Blanche and Alex La Guma, who committed their lives to the liberation of the oppressed people of South Africa even while they were in exile.
The play explores the couple's early days in District Six when Alex and Blanche were young sweethearts, to their underground work for the Communist Party and his life as a Treason trialist. Then comes the heartbreak of exile, the strangeness of London and finally a diplomatic posting in Cuba.
The last dance of this heroic love story happens in Havana in October 1985 when Alex dies of a heart attack.
This compelling tale is a powerful love story that combines the gentility of dance, poetry, brutal torture and exotic global adventures with equal ease.
Sylvia Vollenhoven and Basil Appollis bring to life evocative stories and harrowing experiences depicted in La Guma’s works throughout the years.
“I grew up at a time when apartheid was killing people physically and also killing our stories with bannings and censorship. When you destroy people’s stories, the essence of their culture, it is a greater act of aggression than physical murder,” explains Appollis.
“...then the apartheid government moved from merely banning writing to banning people like Alex La Guma.
“And when apartheid ended the ANC attempted to fill that gap. But their stories have an overtly political agenda and they have elevated the stories of only a handful of heroes and heroines.”
Appollis' vision, which is evident in all his work, is to redress the “gross injustice of the past,” by using his talent to put important stories back where they belong, “in our hearts and minds.”
Elaborating on the inspiration behind the production, Appollis says: “The District Six Museum, mainly Bonita Bennett, approached me to undertake this work. As a result, I met the late Alex La Guma’s dynamic wife Blanche at a birthday party at the Museum.
“I also read her book. So, instead of just looking at Alex… I saw them as a dynamic duo. I decided that I cannot bring his work and his life to the stage without Blanche. And that’s how the theme of dance came about.
“I was also inspired by their love for dancing. Through it, you get to learn that this couple loved life despite the incredible hardships they faced in South Africa because they decided to fight for the human rights of all of us.”
Appollis said that the La Gumas managed to thrive because of their love for each other and also by extension, their love for humanity.
“They suffered countless jail terms as well as torture in their own country. Even in exile they were followed and terrorised by the South African security police all the way to London. Their passion for each other and the cause of a just society kept them going.”
He added that South Africans would enjoy this show because it reflects who we are and where we come from as a nation.
“We need to be reminded of our history, an era that has almost been lost to us. Especially young South Africans will be fascinated by the sacrifices and the struggle that went into the freedoms we enjoy today.
“A hallmark of La Guma’s work is his unsurpassed descriptive powers. His writing takes you deep into the worlds of ordinary South Africans with big stories to tell.
"His ability to explore universal themes of injustice and poverty by using the specifics, the minutiae of everyday life, is what makes him stand out above his peers.
“Sylvia Vollenhoven and I have taken Alex’s writing to tell this story of Revolution, Rumba and Romance. But we go beyond a mere adaptation. We make sense of a life lived largely. Audiences will experience the inner joy of reclaiming a bit of our history and in turn finding a lost piece of ourselves.”
La Guma wrote award-winning novels, essays, radio scripts, cartoon strips and even travelogues. But why have so many South Africans forgotten him, or not even heard of him?
“Dance of the La Gumas” runs from 9 to 23 April at Artscape tickets are available at Computicket for R80.