Welcome to hell

BeginningEnding

COME FLY WITH ME: Hlengiwe Lushaba takes the floor in this thoughtful essay on urban homelessness. Photograph by Neo Ntsoma.

It was Mary I of Scotland who first stated “in my end is my beginning”, a comment uttered on her imminent death, and her quest for immortality. It’s a strange and yet completely fitting starting point for this great monster of a dancework, choreographed by Sunnyboy Motau, which meshes values as it draws on clear influences and sidles up to a reflection of the bitter cruelty that urban society brings the homeless. And as you drive home from the experience, every glimpse you get of a vagrant on the street pushing his monumental load of rubbish, or settling in for the night with the cold comfort of the pavement at his cheek and the hostile context of a sleeping city at his back, will ring with echoes of the work.

Blending stories with stories, movements with movements, people with one another, In my end is my beginning, evokes complex pieces such as Argentinean choreographer Constanza Macras’s magnificent Hell on Earth, which was performed in Johannesburg in 2009, or the interstices of paintings like Hieronymus Bosch’s scenes of hell in his Garden of Earthly Delights of 1480, in which it balances interruption with equilibrium and is rendered with violence and gentleness, deep sadness and immense joy, because of all the things that are going on at the same time.

Curiously, it is backgrounded with a busy urban soundscape, but also live guitar music, composed and played by Matthew MacFarlane, which lends it a gentleness that breaks very valuable ground of its own and forces the gesture and the experience into a new and as yet unexplored sense of possibility in this dance environment.

While it rests, narratively, on the bleeding bloody miasma of uncertainty that a homeless person has to face in the absence of the safety net of family, society or even police on a day to day basis, the work features choreography that will make you gasp and a veritable catastrophe of gestures that intermingle seamlessly.

Your eye is torn hither and yon as you focus on this one-legged beggar with a duck that dances, that woman who carries a boulder of plastic on her head, as she sweeps away books with her broom; that woman who, dressed in a celebratory array of plastic bags sits monumentally on an improvised throne with bubbles ejected all around her; the guy who solemnly sits at a swing, using the seat as a desk-like surface. Ultimately the stories amalgamate into a texture rather than a metanarrative and you find yourself floating on the sense of mad freefall conveyed by the context.

The stage set is dark. It’s complex, with projections of graffiti and urban wildness cast across the rude space of the Laager Theatre, with its quasi-industrial raw concrete architecture, the wire mesh fencing and the fire escape ladder central to the space all flowing in tune with the work’s dynamic. You expect to smell the odour of dank dampness and dried urine: it feels as though you, too are part of this basement-like space where companionship is sought, love found and unfound, where death is ever present and despair the backdrop to the insanity that shows its face.

With several nods in the direction of Robyn Orlin, the work does stands on its own and reflects the work of some potent young performers, as well as the well established performance methodology of the utterly magnificent Hlengiwe Lushaba, whose singing voice and witty, sometimes terrifying, but overwhelmingly dignified stage presence, is arguably the work’s binding ingredient. She speaks to God through a baking powder tin as she sings with such abandon that the real God must hear her.

Reaching closure in a most glorious yet haunting gesture of hope that is fragile and bold simultaneously, In my end sees Motau drawing from the litany of teachers he has grown under, but demonstrating he has a very clear and bold choreographic voice of his own.

  • In my end is my beginning is choreographed by Sunnyboy Motau mentored by Mark Hawkins featuring design by Wilhelm Disbergen (set and lighting) and Shadrack Keaoleboga Seodigeng (costumes). It is performed by Jaques de Silva, Thabo Kobeli, Hlengiwe Lushaba Madlala, Tshepi Mashego, Given Phumlani Mkhize, Shawn Mothupi, Sonia Thandazile Radebe and Nosiphiwo Samente, with Matthew MacFarlane on guitar. It performs at the Laager Theatre, Market Theatre complex in Newtown until February 28. Call 011 832-1641 or visit markettheatre.co.za.
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One thought on “Welcome to hell

  1. Pingback: Johannesburg: a dancework pock-marked by rebellion and verve | My View

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