The magnificence of Albert

Albert
MY orange, my orgasm: Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza indulges with abandon in oranges for Africa. Photograph by John Hogg.

AS THE SONOROUS chords of Mozart’s Requiem sweep you completely off your feet, expect to have all your senses, including that of expectation, utterly seduced, mashed and repurposed. Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza plus Robyn Orlin and Marianne Fassler have created a brand new piece called And so you see … our honourable blue sky and ever enduring sun … can only be consumed slice by slice … and it debuts in Johannesburg this week. There’s one opportunity for you to experience it for yourself. Because experience it, you must: who knows when this combination of talents might appear on Johannesburg’s stages again.

A known collaborator with Orlin in the international arena for several years now, Khoza who debuts here on Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella stages, is an inyanga. He’s also a very extraordinary performer who makes mincemeat of audience expectations, playing with precious values and the ineffable monster of political correctness with gay abandon. He is not afraid to comment on his own identity, as he orgasmically plunges into oranges in a way that will grab you off guard. The only protagonist in this larger-than-life piece, Khoza fills the stage with his voice and his laughter, with an edge of fear and a cloak that evokes a peacock’s tail feathers in full abundance; he sits like royalty and takes on Christ-like connotations, he dances with Putin and warbles like a cockatoo. He has unquestionable nobility and exudes an atavism from behind a cellophane mask, yet he is as vulnerable as you or I.

Over the years, Robyn Orlin has selected performers with mad little edges with whom she has collaborated. Think Ann Masina and Toni Morkel, Gerard Bester and Nelisiwe Xaba, to name a few. Khoza joins these ranks and brings a level of performative fire to the work that will keep you sitting on the edge of your seat because right up until the last nuance, you don’t know what to expect. Unlike any of Orlin’s pieces so far, And so you see … takes a completely different tilt into the audience. Does it break Orlin’s own rules? That’s difficult to say. But what is clear, is it shifts the parameters of expectation even wider, and as you sit there, you weep with joy at the spectacle, at its anarchy and at the fact that anything goes.

And so you see … is about a performer’s body which is glorious and magnificent in its celebration of itself, man breasts and all, as it’s about the true heart of Africans – we dance with our weapons, thus putting them to much better use than killing. The work enfolds political narrative and the demon of homophobia. There’s a moment of forced audience participation and a kiss blown to the Cullinan diamond in Queen Elizabeth’s crown. Citing everything from Sara Baartman to how Africans thank, it’s a rollicking and sophisticated piece of work that makes you remember why Dance Umbrella always had a heart of fire.

  • And so you see … our honourable blue sky and ever enduring sun … can only be consumed slice by slice … is choreographed by Robyn Orlin with Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza and Léopard Frock. It features design by Marianne Fassler and Leopard Frock (costumes), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Nono Nkoane and Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoze (music), Laïs Foulc (lighting) and Thabo Pule (camera work). It is performed by Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza. The work, part of Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella in its 30th season performs again on Wednesday March 14 at the Dance Factory in Newtown, Johannesburg. Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.

Bling, sting and muscling

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THE power of discipline. Lee Kotze in In C. Photograph courtesy Darkroom Contemporary.

THERE’S A PARTICULAR kind of aesthetic that is central to what the Dance Umbrella has brought audiences, for the last 30 years. It’s about rough approximations of narrative meaning, beautiful dance in a clearly rehearsed structure, and above all, an earnestness in the work’s aesthetic that lends it solemnity. Not every work or every show manifests these qualities; they’re very distinct, and utterly present in the festival’s double bill, which featured work by Musa Hlatshwayo and Louise Coetzer.

Hlatshwayo’s Doda is a two-hander, which is about seven minutes too long, and about seven hundred decibels too loud, but it’s engaging and visually exciting enough to hold the audience tight. Premised on the scary perceptions about the culpability of young girls who are raped and murdered in a township context, the work seeks to unpack values that stem from church-bound society, sexist mores and the uncomfortable proximity of living spaces.

The work features jackets infused with LED-lights, blinged to the hilt with safety pins and cash, and radios playing with sonic static and dust, and while the narrative development of the piece is established with clarity, its repetitive development becomes a little numbing. A diagrammatic reflection on space is painted on the theatre’s floor, offering an understanding of context, which is claustrophobic yet clean in its specificity.

But ramped all the way to the loudest, the sound is the element that may cause you most stress. As the work reaches closure and the sound dwindles, you find yourself able to breathe once more.

Enter In C, a work by Louise Coetzer and her Cape Town-based company Darkroom Contemporary. This extremely balletic piece will take you back to the folds of contemporary dance that took flight some 30 years ago. It’s an abstract work, as much about the music as the interpretation. Five dancers in various shades of pastel, populate the stage with an urgency and a clarity that keeps you looking, but it is the compositional energy of Llewellyn Afrika that keeps your head spinning.

When he’s performing onstage, you have difficulty in drawing your eyes from him, and indeed, the eye contact between dancers is quite remarkable and very present in this work. It lends the approach a sense of modulated connection and empathy, which adds to its flavour and watchability. And indeed, the sound of this work, handled via the laptops of Mark van Niekerk and Dean Henning is loud enough: your eyeballs don’t feel like they’re going to explode; neither does your heart.

It is combinations like these two pieces which present a burst of light, a muscular discipline and the serious focus that has, over the years become emblematic of Dance Umbrella, reflecting a well-curated programme.

  • Double Bill featured Doda which is choreographed by Musa Hlatshwayo. It is performed by Musa Hlatshwayo and Sibonelo Mchunu, and features creative input by Musa Hlatshwayo (costumes), and Lerato Ledwaba (lighting and technical). It also featured In C, which is choreographed by Louise Coetzer. It is performed by Llewellyn Afrika, Cilna Katzke, Lee Kotze, Joy Millar and Kayla Schultze and features creative input by Henri (costumes), Mark van Niekerk, Dean Henning and Terry Riley (music). They were part of the 30th iteration of Dance Umbrella, and performed on March 10 and 11 at the Dance Factory, Newtown. Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.

Any colour but black or white

MoyaTracey
THE brilliance of colour, with Moya Michael. Photograph by John Hogg.

CAN A SWAN only be white or black? What would the idea of a coloured swan do to the stereotype? There’s something uniquely ephemeral yet potent about Moya Michael. She dances with a sense of rigour and purpose but there’s an ease to her focus, a smile on her lips. Her new collaboration with artist Tracey Rose, entitled Coloured Swans 1: Khoiswan puts the complexity of being coloured under the proverbial loupe and it engages with everything from theory and history to light and shadow to pejorative words.

Comprising several different parts, the piece looks at coloured urban geography reflected in the dancer’s body. It compiles a soundscape of pejorative words, invented over time to insult the people who are neither white nor black. It is backgrounded by a text explaining the colonialist contradictions and the sense of betrayal that not fitting in comes with. And above all, it features a body of costumes which feel poised on taking wing in their sense of vibrant colour and texture.

Michael elegantly infuses the space with her whirligig energy and her hair.  Spinning this way and that, she embraces the hugeness of the stage with verve and directness. A character called “Lacrimosa” is alluded to, with a morose presence and a potentially hilariously self-deprecating reputation to boot. This is a bit of a downside to the work, however, as it forces Michael into a comic stand-up kind of role, which doesn’t augur well: Michael’s primary talent lies in the way in which she magicks space with her body, rather than imitating different coloured stereotypes.

The work unfolds to include a section in which there’s a fascinating play of shadows, but your wow-shaped mouth rapidly turns into a yawn when the flickering doesn’t wane. It assaults your sense of equilibrium and turns soporific rather quickly.  Indeed, it’s encouraging to remember that this piece is just the first manifestation of the project, because it seems to be skittering on the surface of the issue. Hopefully, in the wake of Dance Umbrella, dance audiences in Johannesburg will get to experience the project’s development.

  • Coloured Swans 1: Khoiswan is choreographed, conceptualised and performed by Moya Michael and Tracey Rose. It features creative input by Moya Michael and Tracey Rose (video and set), Povilas Bastys (costumes), Mitsuki Matsumoto (soundscape and music), Kitty Kortes Lynch (dramaturgy) and Mandla Mtshali (lighting). It was part of the 30th iteration of Dance Umbrella, and performed on Thursday March 8 and Friday March 9 at the Dance Factory, Newtown. Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.

Sing a song of ghosts in a museum of torment

Workers CHANT-photo Evans Mathibe
LOOK into the light: Feeding bowls double as light in the sequences danced by SA dance group Phuphuma Love Minus. Photograph by Evans Mathibe.

SOMETHING QUITE TERRIFYING happens when you find yourself among people you don’t know, being aggressively instructed in a language you don’t understand: You just obey. You do what other people are doing. You become frightened to step out of line. Frightened that the guards’ attention will become focused on you and you may be singled out from the pack. And what will become of you? Will you be humiliated? Will you be killed? Nhlanhla Mahlangu’s Workers’ Chant plays with power in a way that which might leave you traumatised and emotionally in disarray.

It takes the audience through the passages and interstices of the Workers’ Museum, an eerie odd little place at the best of times, which is part of the Newtown heritage trail and remains a chilling relic of apartheid’s values. Given the anti-immigrant marches that Johannesburg saw this week, it is a scarily prescient work that is as much about mourning and brokenness as it is about singling out people deemed of lesser value than the rest of society.

A little too long by maybe ten minutes, the work hammers home the realities of migrant living conditions in a crudely racist regime, as it glances head on at everything from the children of migrant labourers who cannot be read to at night, to the way in which everything from piss, shit and vomit, to food and sleep are – or were – regulated in this compound. Under threat of punishment.

There’s a loose narrative conflating the two women (Siphumeze Khundayi and Liyabuya Gongo) and weaving a history of aggression with one of tears and loss. Not always completely legible in terms of its structure, the work is achingly haunting, as it brings the song and dance work of miners associated with Phuphuma Love Minus in a way that evokes the ghosts of the men who were hard done by in this dire little compound complex and others similar to it.

It’s a work of insecurity but certainty – you know it’s an artwork and the ramifications of the instructions hurled at you cannot really touch you, but you’re still touched, anyway. It’s also a work of chilling beauty and forcefulness, which resonates with the values cast by Xoli Norman and Sue Pam Grant in the 2009 piece Guard on Shift staged at Dance Factory or Jay Pather’s Qaphela Caesar at the building formerly the site of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in 2012.

Workers’ Chant is riddled with contradictions that give it toughness: it’s a celebration of lives in a context of horror and pain, a reflection of the iconic  photographs by Ernest Cole of deprivation and uniformity and a piece capable of creating shriekingly powerful images and contexts, as it is capable of creating a situation which rapidly becomes nightmarish with the screams of a woman in a closely confined space.

You’re not warned of the physical challenges this work brings, as you trundle through the dark and stony surfaces of this museum, but it is the eerie togetherness and spooky site-specificity, wrapped as it is with the traditional songs of the miners that will echo in your head with the whispers of cruel injustices and the dignity with which the men thus inflicted carried it all, sometimes right to their ignominious deaths.

  • Workers’ Chant is choreographed by Nhlanhla Mahlangu in collaboration with Siphumeze Khundayi and Liyabuya Gongo. It features design by Nhlanhla Mahlangu (costumes) and Mandla Mtshali (lighting and video) and is performed by Liyabuya Gongo, Siphumeze Khundayi and Phuphuma Love Minus, at the Workers’ Museum in Newtown, on February 23 and 24 as part of Dance Umbrella 2017. Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 011 492 0709.

Polished fireworks for ballerinos and plastic girls

The Last Attitude - Mamela Nyamza- photo by John Hogg_ (2)
ME AND MY PLASTIC GIRL: Mamela Nyamza in The Last Attitude. Photograph: John Hogg

Silence is a complicated medium to use in contemporary dance. As is ballet. Particularly if it is being put under a rich loupe filtered with a deep understanding of gender binaries, 19th century European frills and trills and crazy little mannerisms that have become something looked up to with God-fearing respect by loyal audiences.

Veteran dancers who both started their careers in classical ballet, close to 20 years ago, Nelisiwe Xaba and Mamela Nyamza have pooled their considerable energies, talents and inner fires to create a fantastic piece of deeply polished work that unashamedly and relentlessly rips into the vulnerable underbelly of European culture and all the pretentious nuances it represents. They do so with the kind of sophistication, savvy and wisdom that doesn’t rubbish or disrespect the genre, but instead holds it – and our society – up to a telling and incisive mirror.

The Last Attitude teases out an understanding of the role of both genders in classical favourites like Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote and La Bayadère, and in doing so, it makes biting fun of the insipid, almost ghoulish female ensemble, and the emotionally piffling but physically taxing role of the male leads, but there’s a twist in the tale that opens up questions about gender and to a lesser extent, race, most compellingly.

European classical ballet brings with it relentless rules and a sense of order which is respected by dancers across the board as the most rigorous and fundamental training. Many of them have been outspoken in describing it as the best formative structure a dancer can get. But it brings with something else, that is equally rigid: Gender binaries. Whether you are a boy or a girl, ballet has a very specific uniform and characterisation for you. If you’re neither all boy nor all girl, but have a talent and a yearning for the discipline, what do you do?

While The Last Attitude has the kind of levity and wisdom that keeps even the most restless of audience members focused, it never stoops into a sense of victimhood: Taking a reflection on the politeness of ballet and ripping it to haunting shreds, Nyamza and Xaba are effectively doing what France-based performance artist Steven Cohen did in 2000 – only they’re working from within the ballet conventions and not from a position of “undance”.

They’re working from within the safety of the formal stage and not constructing their piece as dance guerrillas, and yet, the fierceness and the antagonism toward a whole litany of tradition that they articulate with their bodies, their costumes, their plastic mannequins and their gestures is made of the same kind of dynamite as Cohen’s.

The Last Attitude is an important work, not only for Dance Umbrella, but for the genre of contemporary dance. Along the lines of what Dada Masilo is doing in her oeuvre with the questioning, twisting and stretching of great classics, this work opens doors, asks questions and throws out exclamations. And yes, it’s very technical in how it is rendered, but the mesmerising presence of both dancers is simultaneously so pointed and poised that you hesitate to breathe as it might break the work’s impeccable silences.

  • The Last Attitude is choreographed and performed by Nelisiwe Xaba and Mamela Nyamza. It features work by Boyzie Cekwana (dramaturge), Oliver Hauser (lighting design), Carlo Gibson (costumes) and music by Tchaikovsky and Minkus. It is also performed by Amy de Wet, Samkelisiwe Dlamini, Megan Gottscho, Nthabiseng Modau, Jade Morey, Chanelle Olivier, Nicole Oriana, Kemelo Sehlapelo and Celia van Tonders. It performs at the Dance Factory in Newtown, until February 28, as part of Dance Umbrella 2016. Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za

The dulling of exotic verve in Fremde Tänze

Photograph by Fred Koenig
Photograph by Fred Koenig

“The work begins outside”, people state as the crowd shifts and flows to the quasi-amphitheatre just beyond the foyer doors, and they are silenced in what is arguably one of the more beautiful, elegant and ironic starting points to this year’s Dance Umbrella. The choreographer/performer Nelisiwe Xaba is dressed in blond hair and a neck piece with donuts peopled by small human characters made of sugar and depicting various cultural groups punctuates her form. She walks majestically, her face utterly dead-pan, to the sound of the triumphal march from Verdi’s Aïda and immediately the tone is cast: a black woman commenting on exoticism and the spilling of racist rhetoric into the contemporary world. The point is clear and the gesture is flawless. The work could have ended there.

And maybe it should have. But for some extraordinary moments which used a parachute-material bivouac as a vessel and a screen, containing whilst it projected image and film and song and words, the work loses its momentum quite quickly and spirals into the soporific, relentlessly and irretrievably.

It’s based on an archive of exoticism in German dance, presenting the work of Sent M’Ahesa, an idiosyncratic and bold performer of the early twentieth century, who became lost to the trajectory of dance history, possibly because it was performed beyond the pale of historical expectations of its time. Looking at the slides of M’Ahesa’s work, you might think of visual artists or performance artists of the same era of the ilk of Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven or Meret Oppenheim. There’s a sense of bizarreness and tradition-smashing. What these women did was alarming and frightening for their audiences: Xaba’s work is neither of the two. It is laconic and ironic — appropriately so, because she’s operating from within a post-post-modernist reference point, but it then skitters into the boring.

The work in the auditorium begins with a brief lecture by Dr Eike Wittrock about this strangeness in European dance, and it has points of sheer elegance, humour and beauty, which blend Xaba’s deadpan expression with historically popular songs from German, Asian and other traditions that present deeply racist overtures, with a resounding innocence. The combination of these disparate emotional triggers is scintillating. But other than a showcase of different odd nuances, it doesn’t reach beyond its own confines in this work.

Unforgivably low points in the work are a set of still images projected to music, and the weak  tailing off of the piece, which finds Xaba sewing what looks like tampons onto her costume. She’s focused on the sewing. You’re looking at her, and slowly but irrevocably, your eyelids begin to droop: it’s not clear what you’re looking at, or why you’re looking at it.

This work was developed in Freiberg Germany, on a residency; while the material seems rich with possibility and expectation, it doesn’t feel like it has been as rigorously interrogated and stretched as we have seen Xaba do in the past. She’s a supremely elegant and sophisticated performer, but this work simply does not deliver on all its promises.

  • Fremde Tänze is choreographed and performed by Nelisiwe Xaba, with videos by Frédéric Koenig, Lukasz Pater and Tasmin Jade Donaldson, with costumes by Franziska Jacobsen and lighting design by Oliver Hauser. It performs at the Dance Factory in Newtown until March 15.

Myself/my father: a danced portrait that will set you afire

Photograph by Romeo Chandiposa.
Photograph by Romeo Chandiposa.

Whoever you are, by virtue of the fact that you exist, you have a father. He might not have raised you. He might not be alive any longer. He might have been the source of sadness or horror, happiness or love. This is not one father we see reflected in Nora Chipaumire’s dynamic Portrait of Myself as my Father, it’s every father.

Danced by members of Zimbabwe’s foremost dance company, Tumbuka, the work embraces the theme of masculinity and fatherhood without slipping into the didactic or obscure. While the narrative is not completely clear, the dervish-like dance constructs designed in a diptych format will sweep you away completely, leaving you exhausted but exhilarated.

The nine dancers lope quietly into the auditorium, dressed in an approximation of men’s suits and bare feet, onto the stage like a troupe of ghosts. There’s a focused sense of efficiency in this work which takes place on a stage covered with soft red sand punctuated by a single shaft of square light: the boxing ring.

The dancers never teeter into this space: lending it a sense of the ineffable, the sacred. Its role in the masculinity narrative is not unpicked and it remains a glorious mystery in the work, that you don’t need to understand, but something that your eyes and mind keep reverting back to.

Catherine Douglas is cast in contradistinction to the rest of the company: she alone articulates the second half of the diptych and while we’re never given the reasoning behind the discrepancy between the two sides of the work, this dancer, physically shorter than the rest of the cast, carries the weight of the whole work with a sense of dignity and authority that makes it really hard to pull your eyes from her. It’s quite an astonishing feat: the movements she makes are not as flamboyant of those of the rest of the cast; they’re humble and gestural, and while you’re wowed by the speed and cohesion of the men and women in the company, you’re silenced by Douglas.

Further to that, the work features live music interplayed with piped music and truly delicious things happen in the Zimbabwean and European sounds that are cast together and allowed to flow through the work. If you listen carefully, you can hear jazz riffs and musical phrases from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. You can hear contemporary dynamics knitted together against a backdrop of Zimbabwean chords.

Arguably, up there with Rachel Erdos and Sunnyboy Motau’s fight flight feathers f***ers and Mamela Nyamza’s Wena Mamela as this Dance Umbrella’s unequivocal jewels, Portrait of Myself as My Father sweeps you on the back of a kaleidoscope of dance values, constructed with a mature sensibility and a developed love of the discipline. Hopefully this country will get to see more of Tumbuka’s work, more of Chipaumire’s material and certainly more collaborations between Tumbuka and Chipaumire.

  • Portrait of Myself as My Father is originated and choreographed by Nora Chipaumire. It is danced by Ndinei Alfazima, Maylene Chenjerayi, Catherine Douglas, Snoden Filimon, McIntosh Jerahuni, Alexio Matambo, Chido Mukundwa, Stanley Wasili, Caroline Yule and Carlton Zhanelo, from Tumbuka Contemporary Dance Company and musicians Fatima Katiji (voice/hosho), Tatenda Mapaso (guitar) and Sinyoro (hosho). Directed by Anna Morris, it features design by Chipaumire (costume and set); Philip White (sound) and it performs at the Dance Factory in Newtown until March 8.

Wena Mamela: Look and listen

The alter ego. Photograph by Zanele Muholi.
The alter ego. Photograph by Zanele Muholi.

She’s already dancing in a milky grey spotlight when you walk into the space. Amid the noise and rustle of an audience settling into itself and talking and laughing, she performs in a curious silence, marked by facial expressions at once comic and a little frightening. There is music: a selection of tuneful classical music played by the former South African National Symphony Orchestra, but it is not played in tandem with her movements and it skirts between European and South African popular tunes.

Mamela Nyamza is one of those performers who work with such an intelligent energy and honed focus that it feels she cannot make a wrong move. There’s an internal ‘engine’ in her focus, a wise and tempered celebration of both what is dance and what is ‘undance’.

This work, Wena Mamela is engaging while it’s thought provoking; it’s beautiful yet ugly; it blends visual humour with discomfort; and crudity with sophistication. And in posing very pertinent issues around identity and colonialism, it never allows itself to slip into too didactic a mould. Above all, it focuses on a level of vulnerability for this sole performer/choreographer onstage that you shiver in the realisation of its bravery. But having said all of that, the work is not balanced or placatory. It grapples with itself and feels unfinished. And yet in being so, it is all the more fierce and real. This is autobiographical dance on a par with some of Lille-based performance artist Steven Cohen’s outspokenness.

Several years ago, performance artist Hlengiwe Lushaba created a work in the foyer of the Wits Theatre which blended impromptu dance with an engagement with her own name and the curious and offensive ways in which white people ask its meaning as they break their teeth trying to pronounce it. The work was astonishing and bolshy and fresh and timeless. Nyamza does something similar here, pushing the insensitive and judging questions that she’s been plastered with all her career: they’re rhetorical in so many respects and invasively probing into her private life, her self-opinions, her decisions.

The concept of the spectacle is always forefront in this work which blends an understanding of exoticism whilst it does not pretend to be anything other than a work onstage. We have pot plants that conjure a jungle and a puppet worn on Nyamza’s back that gives voice and presence to an alter ego, but there’s an engagement with the presence of the camera that evokes a sequence in one of English film director Peter Greenaway’s works, where the act of capturing someone with a camera is metaphorically aligned with the idea of rape.

Armed with a plastic dress, gold shoes, a hard hat and sunglasses and a luminous green bikini, she grins and poses and makes an imitation of the noise of a camera shutter with her mouth. She does it again and again, and a frenetic fever pitch overrides her, shifting the gesture from placid and commonplace to sinister and disturbing.

The puppet she wears presents a stereotypical tribal woman. Bedecked with some acid yellow feathers as a coiffure and with breasts and arms akimbo, this figurine embodies an identity which makes you laugh with poignancy and yet feel that there’s something deeper, something primordial being accessed here. She becomes the essence of the piece and is performed with an empathy that you will recognise and instinctively warm to.

By and large, this powerful and gentle piece sums up so many of this dancer’s personal and political challenges up to this point in her career. It’s roughshod in ways that engage, yet it lends a physical humour to an understanding of stereotypes that is both visually appealing and haunting. It’s the work of a mature practitioner who knows herself well but hasn’t the time to rest on her laurels.

  • Wena Mamela is choreographed and performed by Mamela Nyamza with puppet design by Janni Young, and lighting by Frans Zunguze. It performs at the Dance Factory in Newtown until March 6.

On Fire: out of control

Thulani Mgidi in On Fire. Photograph by Manuel Osterholt.
Thulani Mgidi in On Fire. Photograph by Manuel Osterholt.

When you watch a piece as catastrophically chaotic as Constanza Macras’s On Fire choreographed for the gala opening of this year’s Dance Umbrella, you might be tempted to question what exactly a choreographer does. Unlike the previous works we have seen by this choreographer and her company, there is a catch all moment in the work where it seems anything goes and you in the audience are being subject to Macras’s version of pot luck. Did she run out of editing stamina in creating this piece?

Had it been well produced and carefully constructed, you might have been of the opinion that the performers should be allowed to die after the work had been completed: they had done so much with such fervent diversity during the work’s complicated duration. But nay: you cannot say this: there is just simply too much, most of which is crying out for editing snips: The work is too long. The colonialist message is carried across with clarity and even beauty, the first time. But then it is broadcast again and again. And again. With proverbial sledgehammers, considerable narrative sloppiness and extreme loudness. And again some more: to the point where you want to shout ‘enough, already!’

It’s also a misguided message that leaves you, as a South African audience cold: we’ve been through the colonialist discourse a million times. We’ve lived through it. It’s ours. While On Fire has potential and the skill of its cast is simply breath-taking, the work lacks an underbelly of meaningful context and doesn’t give local audiences anything new. Instead, the tired rehashing of apartheid values and a poorly constructed spoof of a soap opera hurts the Dance Umbrella and your personal expectations. It feels arrogant and self indulgent.

They’re words which don’t come lightly. The first half of this work contains heart-stoppingly fine moments which bring the colonial practice of tennis and golf playing and tea drinking onto a strip of veld from which the Hillbrow Tower is visible. In another part, a sheet of paper on the floor and an astonishingly fine dancer convey a sense of not fire, but water, at the work’s outset. The dancers articulate the curious formality of colonialist photography with a wisdom and a level of input that is unique and sophisticated. There’s a give and take with traditional African song that sparkles with engagement.

But then, the work seems to lose its way, and there is too much text and weak story-telling. Too much thrusting about and making horrible noises. Too much time and energy spent in bringing everything from soap opera story lines to Credo Mutwa and Fitzcarraldo’s sound track into the mix. So much so that you could even overlook the collaborative energy that videographer Dean Hutton and photographer Ayana V Jackson have put into the work. Their contribution feels brushed over and disregarded.

Ultimately, you leave with the awareness that this potjie hasn’t been cooked long enough and the disparate parts don’t meld in a way that is convincing. Instead, you might feel a bit insulted by the manner in which these performers who are not from this country mangle and mock us. And above all, disappointed: Macras’s reputation for exceptionally good work just hasn’t been honoured here.

  • On Fire by Constanza Macras | Dorky Park is choreographed and directed by Constanza Macras and features performances by Louis Becker, Emil Bordás, Lucky Kele, Jelena Kujic, Diile Lebeko, Mandla Mathonsi, Thulani Mgidi, Melusi Mkhwanjana, Felix Saalmann, Fana Tshabalal, John Sithole. It is designed by Carmen Mehnert (dramaturge); Ayana Jackon (visual art); Dean Hutton (video); Constanza Macras and Noluthando Lobese (costumes); Jelena Kuljic and Abigail Thatcher (music and sound) and Catalina Fernandez (lighting) and performs at the Dance Factory in Newtown until February 27.