SELDOM DO YOU find yourself turning to the bible in an attempt to access what you have just seen in a dance festival context. But this is most certainly where the perplexing, abstract but highly skilled De-Apart-Hate by Mamela Nyamza, which debuts in Johannesburg for the Dance Umbrella, presents you with. It’s a tale of the kind of illegal love described in Leviticus chapter 18 verse 22, and unbalanced values cast against a backdrop of austere principles and sexuality.
It’s a work which elegantly combines stasis and violent movement, colour and see-sawing of values and coherence in an engaging and oft-difficult to watch framework. But it’s also one which makes you feel that you are in a church context, given the live recordings of congregations singing that peppers the work with an element of realism.
Think of the one piece of work which American feminist artist Carolee Schneemann is most notorious for – Interior Scroll – where the performance artist has inserted a text into her vagina, and part of the gesture of the work is her extraction of this item from her body and her reading of its contents to an audience. But while you’re thinking of it, grow the notion and develop it under a sophisticated rubric that is less about the shock of nudity on stage and more about the idea of the bible as a text that restricts and deems certain sexual activities taboo – or has, over the years. The place-keeping ribbon in this bible draws you to the gestures of the feminist movement of the 1950s, but in Nyamza’s hands – and between her thighs – it becomes something else.
Having said that, this is not a sexy piece in the smarmy and obvious understanding of the notion. Pulling together the notion of Victorian culture, the work features interaction between Mamela Nyamza and Aphiwe Livi which is as much about social intercourse as it is about sexuality.
It’s a piece about imprisonment and boldness, rules and taboos that will insinuate itself in your thinking with a deliberately gradual flow of energies. It becomes difficult to watch because of the stasis presented, giving an ear to Dance Umbrella critics who reflect on some Dance Umbrella pieces as being conceptually and actually stripped of all movement.
The astonishing thing about this work and the dance gestures and church-evocative chants is that the whirligig of church behaviour it ignited into activity under the rhythm and gesture of the performers. On opening night, audience members became congregants who were unafraid to ululate and extrapolate on the values of God and Satan as they watched Nyamza and Livi move.
This is another important dance gesture for Nyamza. Again, she bravely reformulates herself within the rubric of her dance – at times looking demonic at times looking like a figure from a painting produced in colonial Europe. With a bench that doubles as a see-saw painted in colours evocative of all that the LGBTI movement stands for, to say nothing of the Rainbow Nation cliché, the work is sophisticated and cleanly placed, as it is rich and profound in its thinking. And from day two of Dance Umbrella, the festival is lifted to an important high.
- De-Apart-Hate is choreographed by Mamela Nyamza and features design by Shiba Sopotela (costumes) and Buntu Tyali (lighting). It was performed by Aphiwe Livi and Mamela Nyamza in the Wits Amphitheatre, on February 24 and 25 as part of Dance Umbrella 2017. Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 011 492 0709.