The Politics of Relationships
A common thread between the first three works of Jomba! Fringe 2011 was that the structure of the works was overly complicated.
The programme opened with Talking the Walk, choreographed by Vusi Makanya, created for the dancers attending his KwaSuka Lokho Saturday class. It begins with three spotlights, one containing a young woman reading from a newspaper aloud quoting the famous 1956 political slogan “When you strike a woman, you strike a rock”.
A noose dangles ominously over her head. In another spotlight, a white woman with flowing blonde hair begins to move, again and again creating the motif of a mother cradling her child. In yet another there is a black woman, alternately repeating this gesture. They are surrounded by fallen comrades, and the suggestion is that many women had to make sacrifices during apartheid so that the next generation would be 'free'.
This piece is a celebration of women who fought for political freedom and does indeed come across as a work of solidarity except for when the dancers are not in time with each other. While the simplicity of the first part of this piece moved the audience greatly, as Talking the Walk progressed, the dancers lost focus.
The movement quality was feminine, highlighting the sway of the hips and arms and containing some interesting floor work. At one point a man enters the stage space, creating the same feminine gesture with his body; there was a sense that his presence alongside the women had not been fully negotiated, and it was unclear what was being said about his own gender.
The Reason, choreographed by Jabulani 'Tamraat' Matiwane, begins beautifully. A man dances in a pool of light, self-flagellating in his movement quality, to the sound of what seems to be an expression of his inner landscape, a strong male voice speaking of deep-seeded insecurity, self-doubt and the fear of being close to madness. Centre stage is a chair upon which hangs a tail coat (a visual reminder of Lliane Loot's Skin) and the performer is at times drawn towards, and at others repelled, by the black coat.
From this point the work becomes unclear- a black out leads the audience to believe that the work is over, as the next section is performed by four women in a style containing a completely different quality to the first moments. The transition is jarring; the links between the two scenarios too obscure. Another blackout is followed by a segment in which the solo male performer becomes more lucid, having found what appears to be loved, from four women no less. The work ironically deals with decision-making, and the decision to put so many elements together, rather than focusing on the initial thrust of the work dilutes it.
A Society of Dangerous Women, choreographed by Stella Dlangalala, was a duet performed by two women, one black (the choreographer), and one white (Monique Hill). The white woman carries a glaring white scarf as she frantically runs across the stage. The scarf becomes a prop to cover, comfort and yet simultaneously stifle her. She is met onstage by a black woman wearing an apron, who comes to her rescue.
While the dancers are technically strong and beautifully in synch, the politics of this piece are problematic, producing stereotypes of white women as delicate flowers unable to stand alone, and of black women as existing to nurture and care, fulfilling domestic responsibilities and 'making a home'. The work may be well-intentioned, but it read as a shallow interpretation of the bonds between women of different races. At no point did the 'white' figure offer support to her counterpart.
Jomba! Fringe is a platform for new choreographers and dancers to find their wings, and it is difficult to be overly critical. However, in contrast to last year's festival, containing powerful works ingrained with personal truths and beautiful observations, the Fringe content was a little less mature and considered.
Freedom is ….
The works on Jomba!’s ever popular Fringe was remarkably personal and the personal, as we know, is political.
A common theme was the portrayal of untold life stories. Vusi Makanya’s Talking The Walk was a tribute to all women who have embodied strength and courage as they fought for their freedom. The image of Sinothando Sapho reading a newspaper under a spotlight was powerful. A direct address from her added another layer when she used the famous iconic 1956 slogan “if you strike the woman, you strike the rock”. Hues of red lighting together with the quality of movement that had a great deal of abandon attached to it, tied together and uncovered the passion that lives inside every woman.
Jabulani 'Tamraat' Matiwane’s The Reason ... included a verbal soundtrack that evoked a sense of paranoia, indecision and insecurity. It was further emphasized by Mduduzi Mkhize’s body's sharp and angular movements within the confines of a single spotlight. The piece lost its bearings as it had one too many false endings and lacked motivation for the addition of a quartet of girls doing a sequence by themselves.
Stella Dlangalala’s A Society of Dangerous Women had stronger choreographic elements and was more physically focused. It successfully conveyed emotion through the two female dancers and their bodies (Dlangalala and Monique Hill). However the use of a prop and costuming caused this focus to skew. Hill was portrayed as a (white) damsel in distress, unable to support herself. Her losing struggles were symbolized by a white cloth, whilst Dlangalala (appearing in her own work), wore a brown apron and provided the crutch that her partner desperately needed. This read as stereotypical and bordered on being patronizing. It was unfortunate that significant details detracted from what was a highly physical and full-bodied narrative.
I managed to experience Mlondolozi Zondi's multimedia Geography of My Umbilical Chord ((performed by Zondi and Thokozani Sithole) from the wings. My unusual view seemed to shape the reading and understanding of the work differently. The physical quality of the movement was highly athletic and gentle. The emotions evoked stemmed from the tensions that arise from a clashing sense of hope and despair in the search for inner peace. The level of integrity, dedication and sensitivity towards the subject matter was exemplary.
Once again the Jomba! Fringe night provided another valuable platform for the identification of new talent.