09 September 2010



Lisa Sterne

There was talk of death after Sello Pesa’s site specific installation performance “Lime Light on Rites” which dealt with funeral policies in South Africa.

This performance left the audience wanting to talk about facts and rituals surrounding death in this country. As a 22 year old middle class white South African I have not given funeral policies much consideration, as death is not something I face regularly. Pesa explained that this is not the case for him and many poor communities.

At the “Talking Dance” session the Johannesburg dancer-choreographer, artistic director of Ntsoana Dance Theatre, also said that he had been personally affected by death many times in the past two years. Many of his friends have passed away and it still feels surreal to him. He explained how he discovered that some funeral policies exploit the poor. Funerals are big business.

With the death toll in this country rising exponentially, funeral businesses are raking in money. Pesa’s piece explores this heartbreaking phenomenon sweeping our country. He performed with dancers Humphrey Maleka and Brian Mthembu.

“Lime Lights on Rites” was staged on the grass outside the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre As the audience walked in, a salesman in a gold and cream blazer (Maleka) gave everyone a pamphlet on a funeral plan. It stated what one would be paid out after a death. It included a car!

There was a black raised stage in the middle with many chairs turned over on it, a mattress balancing against some chairs, a green umbrella, a radio, a sound system in the middle of the stage, a transistor radio, a box of condoms and some benches. Behind the stage was a white gazebo, that had the advertisement on the pamphlet projected on it and had chairs underneath it.

The performance depicted a few situations associated with death and funerals. Pesa explained in the post performance interview that morturaries and funeral homes have appeared everywhere in townships where they weren’t before.

. Brian Mthembu was wearing a black dress over black pants, with smart black shoes and a slingshot around his neck. He used this sling shot to shoot condoms spontaneously at the audience and Pesa.. This illustrated the idea of how sudden death is, and in this country, death is often caused by HIV /AIDS.

Another startling image was the cleaning of the chicken (by Maleka). A raw chicken was placed on a mattress, on top of a bench which was on top of four chairs, and sterilised and wiped with camomile cream. This represented the corps being cleaned for the coffin. To the mortician, your loved one’s body is simply another raw dead body, like the chicken.

The chicken is then lowered on the mattress to the floor. The audience is asked to take the soil (taken from the shovel which dug in the grass next to the stage) and throw it over the chicken. They are burying the chicken.

During the performance, some of the audience members were forced by Sello Pesa to get off their chairs, one by one. One could see that some people were not pleased to be told to move, when they had paid for their ticket and felt that they had a right to sit on a chair. This represented how many people pay for funeral policies and feel cheated when they receive the payout and how disrespectful the funeral business can be during mourning.

There was pre-recorded music about the Violent Femmes (the band) and a live radio playing. Sometimes they overlapped; or played on their own. A great surprise was that during the live radio broadcast there was an advertisement for a funeral home. This wonderfully illustrated the marketing of funerals in South Africa. This unscripted advert was a superb illustration of Pesa’s message in “Lime Light on Rites”.

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