BEAUTIFUL me: The serious girls in Doll. Photograph by John Hogg.
THE TROUBLING TRUTHS of the prevalence of the selfie and the way in which contemporary society is so deeply focused on its cell phones is something that has been pondered by thinkers and hacks alike. Social media seems to be here to stay, and it’s pulling our values shamelessly into a morass of vanity, narcissism and mediocrity. Owen Lonzar and Sylvaine Strike take these issues into their speculative loupe in constructing Doll. The work is carefully stylised and teeters over into issues of sexism and stereotypes. While aesthetically tight, it states the obvious, but it’s complicated with red herrings and doesn’t go beyond its basic premises.
Not even the physical charm and magnetic presence of Craig Morris could save the soul of this work, however, which is thankfully not very long, but so infused with its observations about cell phone mania and selfie admiration that it doesn’t take any conceptual leaps which would add to its narrative muscle or its value as a dance work. Instead, with its precise choreography, its clear and bold lighting and its stereotypical stories, it fits feasibly into the realm of entertainment rather than of contemporary dance.
With curiously robotic performances by the lead “dolls” who are dressed in a way that makes them reminiscent of 1920s ‘flappers’ – Nina Erasmus, Nicola Niehaus, Paige Farlene and Nosiphiwo Samente, the work alludes to a Stepford Wives/Handmaid’s Tale kind of metaphor, but it’s not something that Ira Levin or Margaret Atwood would have penned. Central to the work is a red herring: a character performed by Donovan Yaards, who wears a Rocky Horror Picture Show-evocative drag, complete with thigh-high shiny boots and a corset. He’s in and he’s out, rolling his eyes, blinging and fawning as he must, but we’re not given to understand why or even why he’s there.
The work plays with stereotypes as it looks at ordinary guys getting what looks like mail order plastic faux girls, through their Tinder-evocative selection gestures. It’s about bums and tits and pouted lips, and the manner in which girls are available for men’s delectation. The ‘character’ sits alone, between the two fences, being neither boy nor girl, really, and offers nothing by way of nuance, meaning or subtlety, which leaves this work feeling like a bit of pretty fluff rather than much else.
Doll is co-created by Owen Lonzar and Sylvaine Strike. It features creative input by Owen Lonzar and Sylvaine Strike (costumes) and Oliver Hauser (lighting) and is performed by Ryan Dittmann, Nina Erasmus, Paige Farlerne, Sara Feldman, Thapelo Kotlolo, Franscecka Leech, Craig Morris, Nicola Niehaus, Nosiphiwo Samente, Melissa Schafer, Hannah van Tonder and Donovan Yaards. The work, part of Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella in its 30th season performed on March 17 and 18 at the Wits Main Theatre in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.
A heady mix of irreverence, theatricality placed in a set simple in its magnificence, that is ramped up all the way and features contrivance pushed to the giddy hilt, Tartuffe is a tightly focused, beautifully choreographed tribute to Molière, which indulges in such an array of over-the-top shenanigans, you become embroiled in the madness and don’t want it to end.
Featuring actors physically large and small, from Vanessa Cooke as the maid Dorine to Neil McCarthy as Orgon, the beguiled father of the house, it’s an impeccable celebration of overstated gesture, eavesdropping and intrigue in the face of utter unabashed hypocrisy. A tale which enjoyed credence in the 17th century, it remains remarkably prescient in contemporary culture: Tartuffe (Craig Morris) is the charlatan smarmily secreted in the church’s moral values for his own benefit. He slips into the confidence, the heart and the intimate family values of Orgon, to almost devastating – but utterly hilarious – effect. But fear not, there’s a grim and sinister twist in the tale that lends it a devilish tone.
There are some strange anachronisms in the language: the work was originally written in rhyming couplets and has by and large been translated as such in this version. This is a quality which sometimes causes the flow of the poetic metre to stumble and feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless the couplets that do work and the clarity of their articulation will hold you focused and keep you staving off your own laughter, because the hairpin turns of the plot need to be heard to be properly appreciated.
Capitalising on the physical attributes of her cast, director Sylvaine Strike works like a true caricaturist, making the simple gesture of walking up three steps into a sonata, and the act of crossing one’s legs a sonnet. Indeed, Madame Pernelle, played by Morris is virtually all mouth, and her presence evokes Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts, to excruciatingly funny proportions. Monsieur Loyal, the lawyer, played by William Harding, takes immoderate to another whole level with his size, his sausage and his utterly ingratiating quality which might call up characters such as Dickens’s Uriah Heep, in your mind’s eye.
The music, which represents a pastiche of sound and tunes from the 1920s, is, however, too heavy handed in its approach and it does tend to crush the scenes it infiltrates, jarring and bouncing off the venue’s walls at times. The heaviness of the sound is balanced with acuity with the madly flexible bodies of the cast, however, and this tale of hypocrisy and love, sex and trust is something you wont want to drag yourself away from.
Tartuffe is written by Molière, translated from the French by Richard Wilbur and directed by Sylvaine Strike. It features creative input by Sasha Ehlers and Chen Nakar (set), Sasha Ehlers (costume), Oliver Hauser (lighting), Dean Barrett (music composition) and Owen Lonzar (choreography). It is performed by Adrian Alper, Vanessa Cooke, Khutjo Green, William Harding, Vuyelwa Maluleke, Neil McCarthy, Craig Morris, Anele Situlweni and Camilla Waldman at the Fringe, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, until June 25. Visit tartuffe.co.za