06 September 2010

Surreal Site-specific

Surreal Site-Specific

Chris Tobo
It’s advisable to not get too close to the stage at South African dance provocateur Sello Pesa’s latest site-specific work. It might be dangerous.

The performance took place on a stage outside the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre as part of a double-bill for the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience. The work is titled “Lime Light on Rites”, and Pesa as performer and choreographer, takes the audience on a bizarre and often unnerving journey fraught with unresolved tension. Along with his two consorts, Humphrey Maleka and Brian Mthembu, both members of Pesa’s Ntsoana Dance Company, the choreographer creates an unsettling piece with odd imagistic compositions: A man (Mthembu) wearing a women’s black dress with beaded detail over a black pants and black dress shoes stands with an uncooked chicken on a plate in his hands. Another, (Pesa), wanders across the space moving chairs around seemingly at random while a third man (Maleka in a flashy beige suit) hands out pamphlets at the entrance advertising a funeral plan from “Lime Services” .The same service is projected on a white gazebo covering.

Adding to the perplexity are stacked plastic chairs lying overturned and strewn across the stage, wooden benches, a green umbrella sheltering a wooden table on top of which sits a black case, a bible, a bottle of Red Bull energy drink and a bottle of Energade. Also on the stage is a high-tech sound system alongside an old-fashioned transistor radio tuned to isiZulu radio Ukhozi fm.

With all of these disparate things going on the analytical part of my brain frantically tries to make connections while Mthembu walks to different areas of the stage, chicken in hand, in a numinous daze. Pesa continues his perambulation on and around the stage mostly moving through the audience gathered around three sides of the square stage. What follows can only be described as a surreal re-imagining of a funeral service permeated by an air of dread and uncertainty.

Mthembu begins chasing Pesa around with a kattie shooting Choice condoms at him as Pesa tries to duck behind the audience, some of whom (including myself) are invited to sit on the chairs set up on the stage. A sound-bite is repeated over the speakers touting the unfuckwithability of the Violent Femmes. Pesa and Mthembu begin a perilous dance using the two benches on the stage. Maleka re-appears and proceeds to embalm the chicken using cleaning spirits and lotion on a makeshift table he constructs on the stage using a bench, chairs and a mattress.

Meanwhile Mthembu has summarily taken an axe to the other bench and is violently hacking it to pieces and Pesa takes a sip from each of the energy drinks, occasionally mixing them together. When Maleka finishes with the chicken he begins throwing soil on it using a spade. Some audience members are encouraged to do the same using their hands, echoing an actual funeral burial. He then throws himself on the chicken and begins to violently wrestle with it. All of this is bewildering to watch, but it is made more unsettling by the concentration and commitment of the performers.

Not once do they look like they are uncertain of what they are doing. The performance ends with Pesa taking chairs away from the seated audience and asking them to leave. The confusion and uncertainty of the performance and the bewilderment of the audience seems to connect to that of those at a funeral service who are misled by funeral companies that make misleading offers of material compensation.

At the dance workshop I attend the next day conducted by Pesa, he demonstrates his process of creating his work. A series of exercises which seek to rediscover the body’s most natural movements, the spontaneity of the mind freeing the creative force of the individual are all a part of his arsenal of creativity. His working process is based on a system of natural movement and improvisation which he uses to create his challenging work.

As a veteran dancer and choreographer with a contemporary dance background, Pesa has expressed his weariness with its conventions and uniformity, and in his work he deconstructs the notion of dance performance and attempts to find a new vocabulary of movement to communicate artistically. By the end of all this it is easier to understand the thought-process behind works like “Lime Light on Rites”, as I begin to gain a better understanding of the creation process.

Pesa is an artist whose view of performance is more in line with Artuad’s Theatre of Cruelty, and he holds a similar view as Artuad in his creative process as well. Like Artuad, Pesa’s work is a mixture of the mundane, ritual, and fantasy. His work launches an attack on the spectators' subconscious in an attempt to release deep-rooted fears and anxieties that are normally suppressed, forcing people to view themselves and their natures without the shield of civilization.

No comments:

Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience