29 August 2013

Histories, politics and memories collide on stage

By: Christiaan du Plessis

The 15th JOMBA!  Contemporary Dance Experience opened with a statement on the stance of dance theatre and performance in South Africa, making it clear that cutting funding will motivate artists and critical thinkers to fight against censorship, posing the challenge to the audience: "How will you fight?".

To quote the festival’s artistic director, Lliane Loots in her opening night speech: "Life as an artist is one of an activist." Indeed, this statement had particular relevance to the two performances that were presented on this night of insight, namely B.L.E.N.D., the first collaboration between Desiré Davids (South Africa) and Hélène Cathala (France) and THE KING IN EXILE – choreographed and performed by Francisco Camacho (Portugal).

Both pieces spoke to the histories that link humans, and how we find ourselves fighting against them or, in rare cases, fighting for them  As Loots said in her opening speech, The Sneddon Theatre, again the venue for this year’s JOMBA! Festival, has come to symbolise many things, some of which include the rich histories, politics and memories of its place (Durban) and the people who work within it.

B.L.E.N.D. is a performance intertwining two different races connecting in different spaces. It takes the audience on a journey to the different places portrayed by the history, politics and memories of the choreographers. The piece explores what defines them as the women they are today, specifically in relation to the colour of their skin. The tensions between Cathala’s white skin and Davids’ 'coloured', brown skin are explored in this deeply personal piece. In a voice recording which plays during the performance, Davids makes an interesting comment on the issue of her skin colour: "It was not intended to be that way, it just happened. There was already a history". The piece sees the women struggling to find solutions and coming to terms with their skin colour as a part of their identity.

Davids and Cathala use imagery created by their bodies and movement generated through their simple, yet beautiful dance.  These elements are linked with the use of the projections of images which define each performer’s different realities, showing clips of them moving to one rhythm, creating one breath from two, and back to one. The differentiation between their two worlds is created on stage through use of a cable from a speaker, dividing the space, creating two altered worlds, two altered entities. The piece does wonders when experienced live; the exposing of flesh is a constant reminder of their individual histories, politics and memories.

THE KING IN EXILE performed by Camacho makes use of a ritualistic story telling method. The king in the piece is Dom Manuel II, the last king of Portugal, who rose to power after the assassination of his father and elder brother. His reign ended in 1901 with the dissolution of the monarchy and his subsequent exile. Starting slowly, the piece builds momentum as Camacho explores the rich history of the king, fighting through his own childhood memories and being a 'Prince' while growing up. Because of the language barriers (Camacho speaks in Portuguese), it was sometimes difficult to follow the entirety of the story, leaving the audience to make sense of the piece by reading a translated text profected onto the cyclorama.

Camacho uses strong images created through the use of his props: an animal fur coat, a visual image of wealth; the golden thrown that resembles his power and a briefcase filled with sand that represents his land. The stage covered in the iconic red sand of Portugal leaves for creative stencils of his foot print, awaiting the assurance of where he fits in this paradigm universe. The piece builds from being comical to a more serious and emotionally heavy dance, showing us his histories, politics and memories all colliding in one dance. 

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Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience