06 September 2012


Vincent Mantsoe in SKWATTA
Photo: Val Adamson 

Read more for reviews by our student writers-in-residence

Silent pain
By: Prosperity Shange

There is a black stage with a backdrop and blankets on the floor. To the left, stands a figure engulfed in a sheet, in silence, as the earnest drum beat slowly increases and the dancer moves carefully, as if in a trance.

A singer calls out “speak to your ancestors” while the dancer remains bent under the cloth.
Vincent Sekwati Koko Mantsoe, the choreographer and dancer in his solo work Skwatta, comes from a long line of sangomas. He merges ritual and spiritual aspects with a strong political message.

Skwatta comments on the informal settlements or “squatter” camps that have mushroomed all over SA. It explores the spirit of the people and continues his thought process from an earlier solo work, NTU// which dealt with nothingness. Skwatta explores the idea that within nothingness, there is something happening.

Skwatta is powerfully political. The darkness of the stage seemed to echo the darkness of those places which people call home, which are filled with rubbish and hopelessness. He explores what it must feel like to live in those places, in the dark where people can hardly see each other, struggling in silence as he constantly beat and struck his body.

Mantsoe’s depiction of the spirit of people is important – even though individuals struggle to survive and get through each day, they shake hands and smile and then curse one another. At one point, he holds his fist to his face while the other hand tries to tear it away. This highlights the internal conflict of people.

In one part of the performance the dancer and choreographer held his fist on his face with the other hand shaking it to remove it which spoke to me about the internal conflict that people carry within themselves.

This was a heartfelt performance filled with many varied emotions. It looks at the human spirit, often fragile and tortured. I was overwhelmed by Mantsoe’s choreography, the passionate language of his body as a site of struggle echoing the struggle of humanity caught in cycles of poverty.

Vincent Mantsoe in SKWATTA
Photo: Val Adamson 
Something in nothing
By: Thobe Molefe

“There are places that have nothing but there is something there”, said choreographer and dancer, Vincent Sekwati Koko Mantsoe, during a post-performance talk about his new work Skwatta, which premiered at the Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience.

An off-white backdrop was suspended on one side of the stage with cloths scattered and shaped below. A shrouded figure quietly enters in the dark and begins to move while a woman’s voice croons through the speakers, pleading for prayers and respect for the ancestors.

Mantsoe’s movements are at times minimal and mesmerising. Staying very low to the ground, he effortlessly blends the African aesthetic with an Asian influence. He portrays many different characters that inhabit squatter camps or ‘informal settlements’.

The work comments on the fact that we see what is happening to people through poverty and displacement yet we do nothing about it. His frustration culminates by him turning his back to the audience and showing us the middle finger.

The music, comprised of tracks by Amampondo, the Kronos Quartet, Danyel Waro and Nina Simone, serves to feed into Mantsoe’s frustration, anger and resentment in a work that is politically and socially charged.

Vincent Mantsoe in SKWATTA
Photo: Val Adamson 

Mantsoe Magic
By: Caitlin Perkins

Vincent Mantsoe stands on stage drenched in perspiration. Each movement is slow and deliberate, executed with control and intensity; we can feel his exertion emanating from the stage. The audience is held rapt, unable to tear their eyes away from his commanding presence.

Such is the nature of Mantsoe’s performance - his absolute commitment to his craft is like nothing else that I have witnessed.

This year’s Jomba! Contemporary Dance Festival was privileged to play host to the world premiere of Mantsoe’s new solo work, Skwatta. Following on from an earlier solo called NTU///, this piece explores the themes of poverty, desperation and homelessness with regard to the ever-increasing number of informal settlements developing in South Africa, as well as internationally.

As the lights come up, the dimly-lit stage reveals a figure shrouded in fabric. The figure moves slowly and painfully, keeping his back to the audience most of the time. Behind him, a simple backdrop of textured fabric hangs, and on the floor, piles of cloth, evocative perhaps of a family wrapped in blankets sleeping on the floor in a tin hut.

Mantsoe’s slow and controlled phrases are interspersed with sudden, convulsive movements of the torso, which increase as the work progresses.

As his shroud drops to the floor, the audience sees anguish on his face, as he repeatedly clasps his hands and pleads with the earth. He juxtaposes this emotional torment with sudden moments of smiling faces and animated gestures of greeting. As the work becomes more physical, we are witness to his unique dance language, a fascinating melting pot of contemporary and African technique, flavoured by a distinctive Asian influence.

The piece is set to an interesting mix of international music, which ranges from South African percussion ensemble Amampondo, to the American soul of Nina Simone, and the moving string arrangements of the Kronos Quartet. At one point, an unaccompanied voice singing in French, moves back and forth between the speakers in the theatre, creating the sense of a roaming spirit above the audience.

As the piece draws to an end, Mantsoe’s movements become more vigorous, but also more painful to watch, as he repeatedly strikes himself in the stomach, the chest, the neck.

Suddenly the energy changes, and in silence he stands motionless for several long moments. He turns, and looks directly at the audience for what seems like the first time.

A lingering stare, then he turns and exits the stage as the lights fade to black, leaving his audience breathless.

Vincent Mantsoe in SKWATTA
Photo: Val Adamson 

Noble Skwatta
By: Bronwyn Botha

A man is drenched in sweat; he is dancing from his gut. His pain and sorrow floods the stage. We watch him through long beams of light cutting through the dark. He looks back, pausing for a brief moment before exiting the stage.

Skwatta is Vincent Mantsoe’s new solo work inspired by the informal settlements which pop up like mushrooms growing in the dirt. Now living in France, he was intrigued by the growth of these dirty, poverty-stricken places each time he returned to SA.

At the start of the work, the music conjures rain and drums and someone is speaking and pleading. Mantsoe appears covered in a cloth, face hidden, as his body starts moving slowly with sudden jerks eventually causing the cloth to fall to the floor.

His movements seem to resonate from deep within and on stage he loses himself in the piece. Pain and pride sweat from every pore of his body. Mantsoe gives voice to the desperation and struggle of many people caught in the cycle of poverty.

His body is strong. Fists clenched as he moves low, but his head held high. He falls to the floor and quickly picks himself back up. Strong gestures are delivered with aggression and rage.

His dance language contains hints of martial arts stemming from his fascination with Asian philosophy and its similarity to African philosophy. It is deeply rooted in the spiritual world.

At the post-performance talk, Mantsoe firmly stated that his work has relevance to many other countries where informal settlements exist. His intention was to show that even though people may be poor and desperate, they still have dignity, they carry themselves with pride.

This work pleads for us to show respect for all human beings. It is moving to watch a man dance so richly from a place of deep compassion.

No comments:

Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience