TRADITION: Phuma-Langa is infused with an Ndebele theme, as seen in the attire of the performers, as well as segments of the dance. Picture: Christo Doherty

The deliberateness of Mamela Nyamza’s (this year’s featured artist at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown) Phuma-Langa (Sun Rise) starts with its title.

It’s loosely inspired by the continued mispronunciation and misspelling of Mpumalanga as Maphumalanga and other variations by what she refers to as non-lingua people. 

As you walk into the theatre and find the cast on stage, their dress resembles Ndebele traditional attire. Ndebele is a theme that runs throughout the piece, with aspects of the of dance moves inspired by the tradition as well. 

Phuma-Langa is as abstract as they come and if you are not careful you’ll miss the subtle nuances like how the cast’s mechanical breakdown or malfunction happens in quite an interesting way after every mispronunciation of their names. 

If you know anything about African traditions, you’ll understand that names tell stories of birthplaces, of time frames, of the social context that you are born into and that’s why they can never be just names. 

One of the other things that must be commended is how the cast continued with their performance during the blackout. Due to the windy and cold weather that has settled over Makhanda (and the broader Capes) Eskom has had some power outages, which have plunged the town into periodic darkness. 
In some instances performances have been stopped. In this case, the show went on. 

The cast even sang the song they were meant to be dancing to, Bok van Blerk’s rendition of De la Rey, and the stage manager and other members of the technical crew had lamps brought in, after audience members used their torches on their cellphones to provide light for the performers. 

The only thing that ended up not taking place was the post-performance discussion, which I believe would have provided the space for the audience to tackle not only the piece that they had just seen but also the broader discussion on social cohesion and race relations that the production aims to open up. 

All in all, Nyamza’s piece felt like watching a silent scream, bringing the realisation forth, as the performers walk around on stage and attempt to find each other and draw a rainbow nation that all along is being piloted by blind leaders and heading for a crash. And that maybe it’s time we opened our eyes that are shut tight, to save ourselves. 

Director: Mamela Nyamza 
Cast: Nicholas Aphane, Shawn Mothupi, Lorin Sookool, Thulani Mgidi, Nomfundo Hlongwa and Francesca Matthys 
Duration: 60 minutes 
Type: Nonverbal