THE TIES THAT BIND
Mother to daughter. Father to son. Man to man. Woman to woman. Husband to wife. Child to parent. Friend to friend. Teacher to student. These are the ties that bind, the threads that connect us to every aspect of the lives we live.
Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I am never without words. Throughout my schooling career my report cards stated, explicitly, that I really needed to stop talking so much in class. Sitting in front of my computer screen last night, having just come home from the collaborative explosion between choreographer Sylvia “Magogo” Glasser and poet Lebo Mashile, I simply didn’t know where to begin. How could I, who had just experienced the most beautiful union of poetry and dance, even attempt to describe what my eyes had just seen. The simple answer: I can’t. But what I can tell you is that Threads was beauty in motion, a piece of artistry that set my soul on fire and my heart alight with the passion I was constantly receiving from the dancers of Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MIDM).
Created for MIDM’s 30th anniversary in 2008 , “Threads” tells a series of stories that deal with “gender relationships and cultural and artistic identity in South African society.” A pregnant Mashile takes to the stage as narrator, commentator, dancer, societal chorus and instigator, finding herself weaving in and out of the various narratives which permeate the lives of so many South Africans, no matter which culture or creed. The eight dancers, choreographed by Glasser, who was assisted by Muzi Shili and Sonia Radebe, portrayed various aspects of society today and attempted to reveal those very threads which link us all on some level.
In a most interesting manner, Threads branched out into various stories which could stand alone or interweave, but all of which somehow related to one another. There were a few moments, mostly related to gender politics, which really spoke to me from within a piece that was loaded with significance. One such moment involved the four female dancers who began to gyrate centre stage, surrounded by a pool of light and only dancing within the confines already imposed upon them.
The symbolic stepping out of these restraints depicted women unbound but experiencing a freedom which comes at a cost, as Mashile’s poem “What kind of woman would” kill, sell her child, leave her home, and so on, became strikingly relevant. This idea of the labeling of women as either this, or that, was later developed in Mashile’s provocative poem about the various positions and functions that a woman is “allowed” to fulfill. An appreciative muttering, a few uncomfortable laughs and a couple of enthusiastic “aweh’s” were my indication that Mashile had quite effectively hit the nail on the head!
The changes in music really worked for the piece, creatively merging Mashile’s poetry with a musical score (by Leon Erasmus, Nhlanhla Mahlangu and Thunderdrums) which played off , of and spoke to the dancing which was happening onstage. Easily my favourite moment of the entire piece occurs at the very end, where Mashile’s original poem about what dance means to her is juxtaposed with a high-energy dance using all eight other performers.
As the score reaches a crescendo and joy emanates from every musical note, Mashile rides that wave of elation and declares to the audience her new-found love for dance. Eight bodies surround her, moving to the beat, both together and individually, impressing upon the audience the absolute beauty and fulfillment that exists in dance. And, in a fitting end to a work which so successfully merges the art of the spoken word and the expression of dance, Mashile’s booming voice drowns the auditorium and steals my heart: “This body is a pen. Its movements are words… I dance to know myself because my self is unknown.”