DANCE REVIEW: ABOMHLABA(THI).
SOMETHING REALLY MAGICAL happens when you watch the give and take of three young bodies threading and knotting yarns between each other and the African soil that covers the world in Musa Hlatshwayo’s dance work Abomhlaba(thi), on this year’s Jomba Dance Festival, hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, but presented online due to the ongoing pandemic. It’s kind of ineffable: a mix of playfulness and drama, contemporary gestures and others which hark back to old African traditions and the work of Credo Mutwa. The work will be screened online on 1 and 2 September.
Divided into seven small stories that encapsulate big ideas, the piece that you will see is a snapshot of the full scale work, and in that, stripped of audience and of a darkened stage and other theatre tricks, it privileges you, on the other side of your monitor, to see it in the kind of crisp, stark light, that a live performance might not. And the value of this is immense.
The trio of dancers, Aphelele Nyawose, Snethemba Khuzwayo and Njabulo Zungu are fabulously skilled, and placed so that the sequence of events they offer never bamboozles you: you are able to hold all three of them in your vision at the same time, enabling their movements and magnificence to wash over your sensibilities. But this is not to say that their movements are sequential or predictable. Rather the choreographic language criss-crosses through the bland rehearsal space in which it is performed, bringing shimmers of otherworldliness and political jibes into its corners.
The vignettes are witty and tight, deep and strong and deal with many issues, stripping colonialist foibles down with machetes and suitcases, costumes of skin and beads. But it is the one vignette, towards the end of the work, entitled “The Cleansing: The Reclamation of the Self and Its Firm and Righteous Stand” that hits you in the solar plexus and brings the whole anthology together and into tight focus.
Hlatshwayo’s use of suitcases is particularly potent. They’re objects which lend a sense of history and exile that few others can echo. Storytellers of the ilk of performance artist Leila Anderson, writer Es’kia Mphalele and theatre marker Francois Theron, to name a few, knew and embraced what a suitcase might do and say. Hlatshwayo’s focus is fresh and unique, but no less potent.
A work, featuring maniacal performances on the organ, and a piano suite that evokes Erik Satie’s fresh and easy yet complex nuances, where the dancers converse with their bodies and hold fast with their presences, it encapsulates the central thread of this important piece, speaking of ritual and sacredness, self-belief and the power of the body.
- Abomhlaba(thi) is choreographed by Musa Hlatshwayo and performed by Snethemba Khuzwayo, Aphelele Nyawose and Njabulo Zungu. Stage managed by Mthabiseni Masuku, it features on this year’s Jomba dance programme, which is online owing to the ongoing pandemic. The work will be flighted on the festival’s website on 1 and 2 September. Jomba continues until 6 September 2020.