CONTEMPORARY POLISH COMPOSER Krzysztof Penderecki is known for, amongst other things, the bravery – or madness — to allow performers freedom of diverse expression within a defined rubric. So, in works of his which deal with issues such as witch hunts and nuclear bombs, for instance, you get a myriad of violinists reaching for heaven or hell with their instruments and the notes they choose to play. The result? A total cacophony. But it’s a cacophony not without borders. Something similar happens in Constanza Macras’s new work choreographed in conjunction with dancers associated with her company, Dorky Park, and citizens of the suburb of Hillbrow, entitled Hillbrowification.
It’s a rollicking monster of a piece which headlines the notion of joy, at all costs. Loosely and sometimes incomprehensively pinned to a fantasy tale about Planet Hope and how its people need to rejig their values, the work, clocking in about ten minutes too long, is by and large a big jol for the performers, but aesthetically, it is balanced in a Rococo, carnivalesque kind of metaphor.
You might leave the space with your head spinning, from the plentiful bellowing into microphones, music at full blast and sheer infection in the energy of the work. It’s Macras’s aesthetic translated with all its rough edges and idiosyncrasies into the immigrant gateway of South Africa that is known as Hillbrow, and as such, it is a remarkable success. With Miki Shoji casting her sprite-like presence around from under a shocking pink wig, Emil Bordás adding to the frisson of the carnivalesque in his full-head mask comprising large spikes and John Sithole in the dress of a 19th century courtesan, the work still doesn’t attain the level of chaotic discipline Macras unequivocally achieved in Hell on Earth, a work performed for Dance Umbrella ten years ago, but it does offer a sense of the unmitigated celebration in flatlands where the people are poor and the pragmatic challenges harsh.
The question must be asked, however, if this kind of free-for-all fits into community upliftment and along those lines, whether it has a place on an arts festival stage. This has more to do with the array of children in the work than much else. Like Donkey child, a totally magical piece, performed in this theatre under the Outreach Foundation’s rubric several years ago, it’s a magnet for very young people. Unlike Donkey child, it’s not always the adult performers, who take the aesthetic lead in the work.
Ultimately, though Hillbrowification aims to take all that the word ‘Hillbrow’ conveys and to toss it into the ether with a bit of luminous pink sparkly things, some full head masks, lovely fight choreography and an energy that you will want to bottle. It’s a pity a little more of the substance of the suburb was not brought into the fray, however. For as long as people have been arriving in this neck of the woods for sanctuary, Hillbrow’s arguably been their first port of call.
- Hillbrowificiation is directed by Constanza Macras assisted by Helena Casas and Linda Michael Mkhwanazi, and choreographed by Constanza Macras assisted by Lisi Estará It features creative input by Tamara Saphir (dramaturgy), Roman Handt (costumes), Sibonelo Sithembe and Roggerio Soares for Outreach Foundation Boitumelo (stage and props), and Sergio de Carvalho Pessanha assisted by Phana Dube (lighting and technical design). It is performed by Emil Bordás, Rendani Dlamini, Zibusiso Dube, Nompilo Hadebe, Karabo Kgatle, Tshepang Lebelo, Jackson Magotlane, Brandon Magengele, Vusi Magoro, Bongani Mangena, Tisetso Maselo, Amahle Meine, Sakhile Mlalazi, Sandile Mthembu, Bigboy Ndlovu, Thato Ndlovu, Simiso Ngubane, Blessing Opoka, Miki Shoji, Pearl Sigwagwa, John Sithole, Ukho Somadlaka and Lwandlile Thabethe. The work, part of Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella in its 30th season performed on March 9 and 10 at the Hillbrow Theatre in Johannesburg. Visit www.danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.