29 August 2013

When bodies and histories collide

By: Mfundiseni Ndwalane

The stage was set, audience members waited in anticipation to be enthralled once again as the 15th annual JOMBA! Contemporary Experience commenced last night. We were treated to two performances, B.L.E.N.D by Desirè Davids (South Africa) and Hélène Cathala (France) followed by Francisco Camacho’s (Portugal) THE KING IN EXILE.

The audience was greeted by a white stage: it contained a single white flat (stage left); placed on this was umcako (ball of white body clay) upon which was a pair of earphones. On the floor next to the flat was a metal basin (filled with water), further downstage on the right was a projector screen composed of two smaller flats. A number of white fluorescent lights were seen hanging, some placed on the floor. In this space, Davids and Cathala were to B.L.E.N.D.

The opening image saw Cathala appear on stage walking slowly, dragging a speaker, possibly signifying her baggage. Then as if found in her own space, she begins a soft, gentle phrase rooted to the ground.  A few seconds later there is a background noise: what sounds like the noise at the taxi rank signals the arrival of Davids into the space. Whether stationary or in motion, these two bodies give each other the room to speak. We begin to see images on the back wall and the projector screen. Their bodies and the varying vocabularies of movement show the different techniques but also weave together the stories of these dancers. David’s stomping show glimpses of traditional Zulu dance (Ndlamo?) whereas Cathala’s turn out suggests years of ballet training.

Motifs of moving and removing clothing to reveal bare skin, the most obvious difference in the identity of these two performers, is laced with poignancy and intense power. Subverting simplistic ideas around identity; we see that one’s dress code, accent or sometimes their country of residence is not enough to fully understand an individual. Identity is something beneath our skins and can also be something the individual can choose. An abrupt ending doesn’t take away from Davids and Cathala’s B.L.E.N.D succeeding as a blend of identity, performance aesthetic and of course history.

In THE KING IN EXILE (which premiered in 1991), Francisco Camacho draws inspiration from Dom Manuell II, the last king of Portugal as well as Anotonio Cabral, a man who chronicled the life of the King. This solo work is a series of different characters as Camacho explores how a body can be trapped within history and representation.

Only a chair can be seen. Camacho is revealed by a spotlight attired in a fluffy fur cloak. His briefcase handcuffed to his wrist, earphones plugged in, mp3 player in hand - ironically quoting the late King. Jagged phrases of movement signal a harsh soundtrack through the speakers. Constantly bound by objects surrounding him, his body tenses, trying to constantly free itself. The red earth trailing from his briefcase echoes this struggle.

Dragging this ‘royal’ cloak, applying coffee and whiskey directly onto his skin, entrailing smoke from cigarettes all lead up to the final image, Camacho sarcastically holding a peace sign. These all express human tendencies towards the love of power.

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Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience