Dada Masilo’s The Bitter End of Rosemary and Helene Cathala’s La jeune fille que la riviere n’a pas gardee (The Young Girl the River Didn’t Keep), are similar in their subject matter and yet vastly different.
Both pieces, part of the Jomba! Women’s Solo Project, portray a representation of the tragic heroine Ophelia; however they are worlds apart in their movement, language, emotional quality and context.
Helene Cathala, touring from France, presents a contemporary Ophelia overwhelmed and yet intrigued by the range of possibilities presented by modern technology. Through the use of infrared sensors, the performer, Nina Santes, creates a layered and complex soundscape that builds to the point that it threatens to drown her, displaying with her body stereotypes of woman as Madonna, whore, child and muse, and deconstructing these images.
Santes explained in the festival’s post-performance discussion that her greatest challenge was to avoid becoming so immersed in the act of using the technology that she lost her quality of movement. The discomfort of standing directly in front of bright hot lights reinforced the idea of dealing with machinery so removed from our corporeality. Video projection is layered over the dancing body so that the result is a shifting landscape so vast that Ophelia is overwhelmed. In calling the piece The Young Girl the River Didn’t Keep, Cathala suggests that Ophelia can rise above the competing technologies, but in performance it seemed that a loss of control was only natural.
In Contrast, Masilo’s portrait of Ophelia was based more wholly on the classical Shakespearean text, depicting the naivety, and gradual descent into madness of the tragic figure. Appearing completely naked onstage, this Ophelia was stripped to her essence - a young girl rejected in her search for love and drowned out by forces beyond her control and understanding. Masilo is an extremely strong performer whose movement quality for the piece was frenetic and jarring; I found that the work lost its power when she began to speak. Masilo is able to articulate so much in movement, and yet there was a kind of self-consciousness that came into play when spoken word was used.
The stage space was claustrophobic and the side-lighting and UV lighting created a liquid play of shifting light and shadow over Masilo’s body. To be naked onstage is to be vulnerable, and yet Masilo appeared in no way weak.