DRENCHED IN FABULOSITY
By the time I arrive at the Durban Art Gallery I’m in a mild huff because I’m late for one of the biggest multi-media arts collaborative projects events of the year “Red Eye”. But it’s not just any edition of “Red Eye”; it’s the most ambitious one yet: collaboration with the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience.
The evening’s proceedings are already well underway as I wait impatiently to enter the venue, which includes a cordoned off area of Anton Lembede Street outside the Durban Art Gallery (DAG),. I can hear the commanding voice of Ian “Ewok” Robinson, the evening’s MC as he draws the audience attention to the various performances and installations taking place beneath the dark evening sky.
When I’m finally allowed to enter I’m a bit overwhelmed by the audience and it takes me a while to notice that right by the entrance sits a wind instrument orchestra from the Durban Music School. Behind them on the stage Liam “veranda_panda” Magner strokes his beat machine in preparation for the Spitmunky Orchestra.
My attention is drawn to the building opposite the gallery on which words are projected. I later discover it is the work of installation artist Beverly Carpenter titled “Street Child”. The words that are projected on the municipal building are the biographies of Durban street children. This work, together with another video installation by Karen Logan which features street children in soccer jerseys and with surfboards serves as a sobering dose of reality amid the evening’s glamour and spectacle.
An African traditional performance is on the main stage outside the gallery entrance from the Rwandan Umucyo Cultural Group, but I am pulled by a friend towards the I Heart Market stands selling various trinkets and jewellery, passing a pair of strangely familiar drag queens (They turn out to be two male dancers from the Flatfoot Training Company). Just as I’m about to pick out a birthday present from a reasonably priced beaded jewellery collection, I hear a series of loud shouts within my vicinity. I turn to find a troupe of gumboot dancers led into a spirited performance by Flatfoot Dance Company dancer and choreographer Sifiso “Magesh” Ngcobo.
Juxtapositions seem to be theme of the evening as the gumboot dancers give way to a drag show led by another Flatfoot dancer-choreographer, Mlondi Zondi. An unsuspecting audience member is abducted by the flamboyant artists who have emerged clown-style from the back of a truck. The drag queens are all black males, which add an even more risqué element to an already provocative performance.
After a brief fashion show from Dark Child, the doors to the gallery are finally opened by drag artist Kevin Ellis, drenched in silver and black fabulosity, and I enter a veritable labyrinth of performance art, dance, music and installation work. Almost every inch of the space seems to have been used a platform for showcasing artistic work.
Among the standout installations include ‘Multiplicity’, collaboration between Durban playwright Neil Coppen and dancer Shayna De Kock, which is a marvellous interaction between projected video movement and the stillness of live presence.
Another memorable sight was provided by Johannesburg-based performance artists Mark Hawkins and Toni Morkel dressed in swimming costumes and writhing around bursting balloons and clutching black refuse bags. The mind boggles.
There are too many sights and sounds to take in and eventually the evening draws to a close as the action inside begins to die down. There is a fashion show taking place outside we are told, but it seems rather perfunctory after all of the challenging conceptual work one has encountered throughout the evening.