WHAT ARE FRIENDS for if we cannot lean on them? Brainstorming the notion across a myriad of popular songs, Sometimes I have to lean in … is a sheer gem of a work featuring two dance veterans who do not have dancers’ bodies any longer. It’s a work that flies deliciously in the face of stereotypes, but it’s one that reaches deep and touches deeper.
Elev(i)ate was a dance project undertaken by choreographer Athena Mazarakis in 2010. It was a spoof on the idea of a strong man, and featured Mazarakis in an improvised space beneath the staircase of the Market Theatre, lifting people off the ground. It was about working with gravity and tipping points, but on a more conceptual level, it was about the power to move individuals.
In this work performed by Gerard Bester and Alan Parker, something similar is articulated. The idea and the meaning of leaning on someone has been splayed out through songs, fabulous timing, a fantastic dollop of dance nostalgia and some glorious dead pan clowning. The two men’s interaction in their egos and their bodies, in word and movement, is wonderful to watch, and it’s a dialogue as much about words as it is about bodies in space.
And just when you think the give and take begins to tire, the dancers embark on the most majestic and humble pas-de-deux to the tune of Saint-Saëns’s The Swan, arguably the most loved movement of his Carnival of the Animals suite (1886). It’s dance which is about intimacy as it is about male gesture and the ethos of recognising the other, and it is dance to make you weep because of how it indulges in the gloriousness of ordinariness.
At this point, the work’s slapstick self-deprecation and bravado dissolves and you’re left with two men making vulnerable poetry with the humdrum nature of their bodies. It’s a work with no tricks or gimmicks, no sleight of hands brought about by technology, just two guys chewing the proverbial fat and making sense of the world around them. And of their dance dreams. And, of course, making space for a little more beauty in our world.
Sometimes I have to lean in … is choreographed and performed by Gerard Bester and Alan Parker and features creative input by Gavin Krastin (costumes), George Formby, Aretha Franking, Mahalia Jackson, Michael Jackson, Radiohead, Camille Saint-Saëns and Bill Withers (music), Gerard Bester, Gavin Krastin and Alan Parker (lighting and technical design), and Gwydion Beynon (text). It was part of the 30th iteration of Dance Umbrella, and performed on Thursday March 8 and Friday March 9 at the Wits Amphitheatre, Braamfontein. Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.
ARMED WITH A big tummy and a tiny ukulele, James Cairns embodies a whole community of Mexicans in this fabulous piece of theatre, which is a rich and rambunctious amalgamation of everything from traditional Mexican narrative to the demonic beast of copywriting, some colourful fantasy and a bit of radio-style drama thrown in between. It’s swift and funny, sophisticated and self-deprecating and successfully calls upon the devil and God in one voice.
Put together by a highly skilled team of writers, designers and performers, El Blanco examines the path of a pale and freckled Mariachi and how he fares in a dark-skinned world of bias, ancient Egyptian obsidian stones and one in which he needs to whore out his song-writing skills in order to pay the rent. It’s a skilful and heady mix of the past and the potential future, with romance and madness, sadness and lies all cobbled together in a complex series of stories within stories.
And while Cairns has the gift of being able to twist his tongue and his persona into a myriad of different characters all at once, at times, you lose the tiny nuances of the tale, because there are so many voices present in it. You don’t however, lose the thread of the work, which is like stepping into a delicious and irrevocably rich slice out of one of Gabriel García Marques’s novels, with all its idiosyncrasies, hairpin twists in story lines, thick and layered detail and gesture to make you look. And laugh. And forget yourself.
More than that, Cairns’s stage persona brings a whiff of Danny Kaye, a snort of Spike Jones and the City Slickers and a soupçon of BBC radio’s airs and graces from the 1970s. If you loved his performance opposite Taryn Bennett in The Snow Goose, staged recently in this theatre, you will be completely smitten by this wildly creative monodrama, which vies with loose and totally fabulous abandon between being immensely proper, and totally off the wall, with the flick of an eyebrow.
The rudimentary nature of the work’s set plays into the directness of the work and its uncontrived charm. But the balance of bare necessities and immense skill makes this a work you just don’t want to miss.
El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi is written by Gwydion Beynon and directed by Jenine Collocott. It features design by João Orecchia (sound), Jenine Collocott (set) and Jemma Kahn (costumes) and is performed by James Cairns at Auto and General Theatre on the Square until April 8. Call 011 883-8606 or visit theatreonthesquare.co.za
Something of an idiot’s guide as to what never to do on stage in front of an audience, Amateur Hour! is a flippant and fun production in which we see Jemma Kahn and Glen Biderman Pam stretching their mettle in a direction that takes the mickey out of rank stage amateurs with almost cruel abandon. It’s really funny.
From the girl doing a mysterious esoteric dance in which she mistakenly unravels the wrong bandage that reveals her naked breasts rather than her face, to the stand up comic with his fly down and his confidence left at home, to the puppet who loses his head by chance, and the mime who gets an insufferable urge to call her mom, mid show, this is a fabulous spoof of a show, which ends all too soon.
Featuring 12 distinct acts, the work blends real ‘ag shame!’ cringeworthy moments with the breaking of simple rules that can reduce a show with serious (read self-indulgent) intent into something so helplessly hilarious that you laugh until you cry. While one or two of the skits are slightly incomprehensible, the bulk are centred on a performer’s inability to grasp the ‘this is it!’ moment where you can’t come back and say ‘sorry, I did that wrong, let me try again.’
It’s a show that would not benefit from any narrative spine, but given the skill of the production team, never teeters into the believably amateur. It holds together with an engaging tightness and a laugh a second sense of acumen. This ain’t Shakespeare (though he does appear in the funniest of circumstances) and you don’t need to be on high intellectual alert to enjoy it: Quite overwhelmingly, it’s a tonic all round.
Amateur Hour! is written by Gwydion Beynon and directed by John Trengrove. It features Glen Biderman Pam and Jemma Kahn and performs at POP Arts in the Maboneng Precinct, downtown Johannesburg until August 10.