01 September 2011

Unmasking Memory

Vedarsha Singh
“Our Art is not worth nothing; it is a political weapon to remember and recall the bones on which we stand”, were the wise voice of Lliane Loots (Artistic Director of the Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience) as she addressed the opening night audience. The echo of her voice will embody the rest of the 13th edition of this festival.
The two solo works Abdou N'Gom (aka Stylistik’s) Entre- Deux (In Between) and B-Boy Junior’s Buanattitude” had strong auto-biographical elements as they grappled with the preconceptions that exist in and around issues of identity, gender and history.

Both artists have a B-Boy and hip-hop background which they beautifully developed in France. This leads us to believe that they are no strangers to the act of confrontation. The sweat that dripped off the faces and muscular bodies of the performers were indicative of tremendous amounts of courage and determination that carried them through. The performers gathered their past when their bodies spoke, and retold truthfully their respective stories. In so doing they single-handedly transformed the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre into a space rich in history and opened it (and all those inside of it) up to the act of remembering.
Entre-Deux intelligently, and very selectively, shed light upon the tensions that are created when we find ourselves 'In between' either two identities, cultures or phases of our lives. The stage lighting was genius as it faced inward on all sides, enclosing the space. As the lights slowly became brighter and we saw glimpses of Stylistik's athleticism, the feeling was one of claustrophobia.

The movement at the start had a primal texture to it, and it felt as though we were witnessing a beautiful yet hidden caged animal whose mouth was drooling in anticipation for the moment he could earn his stripes. Another symbolic image after he had cleansed himself from the white (self-inflicted) stripes, was one of Abdou N’Gom seated at a table and directly confronting himself by looking into a mirror. What followed were distorted movements, and the application of plaster of paris to his face. Eventually covered and his identity rejected, what ensued was a crazed sequence that had the perfect blend of fluidity and rigidity. He eventually removed his 'white mask', placed it on stage for everyone to witness that this act is possible.

The narrative structure of Buanattitude was established in a lighthearted manner in which Junior addressed the audience. The poignant undercurrent of comedy provided the perfect platform for the contrast of his direct questions around personal identity and self assessment. B-Boy Junior shared with us his story and chose to include significant details such as the fact that he can't fully control his legs. He took us through the stages of his life; from frustration, bitterness and denial to the acknowledging of his roots, and being able to find his own voice through the healing properties of dance. “Dance is the only protection against aggression” he said, as he showed us the manner in which we can use Art as a cure from the mindset that our memory is nothing more than a wasteland.
Stylistik and B-Boy Junior’s solo works highlighted the fact that we need to remember that we are constantly performing our own identity.
Buanattitude and Entre Deux are repeated at Jomba!, in the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre tonight, September 1 at 7.30pm. This double-bill moves to Johannesburg’s Arts Alive 2011 festival under the banner of Hip Hop Explodes, at the Joburg Theatre Fringe, on Sunday September 4 at 6pm.

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Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience