Kristi-Leigh Gresse’s “Fellow…” is on the JOMBA! Digital Edge programme, it is available to stream for the duration of the festival

Dissections of Domesticity

By Lauren Noble (Guest Writer)

Waiting in the wings of the Opening Night of the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience were nine local Durban and Pietermaritzburg based dancers and choreographers who had crafted their own responses to the “Intimacies of Isolation” as part of the Digital Edge platform. Navigating those existential questions and conundrums which have manifested within a time of crisis, these nine works were bold and brave examples of breaking ground on new ways to engage a digital audience.

A body begins to writhe and pulsate in the corner of a room. Shrouded in darkness, there is just enough light to see the form of dancer and choreographer, Jabu Siphika, and yet not enough to see her as an individual. She is Everywoman. Everywomxn. Ya Kutosha tackles the theme of gender-based violence in a way that reaches through the screen and clutches your heart and squeezes the air out of your lungs. That mask she wears is heavy and not just because it signifies COVID but because of the additional burden it has placed upon those trapped, indefinitely, in the most dangerous of spaces in South Africa: the home.

Grief, anxiety and stillness were amongst the definitions that punctuated Fellow… by Kristi-Leigh Gresse who sought to explore the state of mind of the artist in isolation. And of the variety of considerations it was the deafening silence that held me in a vice-like grip… and would not let go! From the moment an all-seeing eye enters the frame to the moment just before a reimagining, the resoundingly noiseless sense of isolation was an impactful creative choice. A monotony of an everyday existence that begins to make now feel like a shadow of your former life. This pandemic has forced us all to wait for Godot. Some of us are still waiting. But the silence shifts, as Gresse reminds us, and we will breathe freely again.

A disrupted, disordered film noir was playing before my eyes as I drank in the multifaceted mise-en-scène of Leagan Peffer’s Kairos. The protagonist vacillated between playing the femme fatale, the ingénue and the victim of circumstance as the piece saw and heard her deconstructing her relationships with others but also with herself. The piece was a flirtation for any audience member who, like me, loves the screen almost as much as she loves the stage. The layers at play in this intricately woven tapestry left me thrilled as I identified small pockets of meaning from within the score and the lyric to the soundbites from television and cinema. It was beautiful to see the protagonist’s journey as she moves into a space of reclamation as Robin Williams’ Mr Keating speaks my favourite quote: “Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Pieces like this once intimidated me. Visceral pieces. Pieces that make you feel before they make you think. Pieces that somehow have the power to take you on a journey through, beyond and within all at the same time U n g a n y a k u m by Nomcebisi Moyikwa was that type of a piece and, far from intimidating me, it left me deeply uneasy the whole way through. For much of the piece all the audience had to rely on was what we hear, or don’t hear, and how that made us feel as an unknown individual goes through a journey. But her emotion at her circumstances and her path cannot be seen on her face because her face is a mask and the mask does not change. Thus we are taken on a contemplation of a set of experiences through constant rhythms, jarring breath, ritualistic chanting and that guttural scream. A cyclical ebb and flow that keeps repeating. Who shares in this journey? And is this masked womxn accepting of any of it? We must keep asking these questions of ourselves and others.

His distressed body heaves and heaves and heaves until, like a twisted version of a magician’s multicoloured scarves trick, he expels a string of caution tape from its mouth. A multi-layered story unfolds between Sandile Mkhize (of Phakama Dance Company) and Cue Ngema as they explore ways of being during Covid-19 in Time. The connection to another is disrupted by those things we may have easily taken for granted: touch, closeness, love, embrace, friendship, youthfulness. The caution tape makes a reappearance midway through their dance and though they continue to dance together they are obviously and aesthetically separate from one another. A web of tape engulfs them and, though their spasmodic movements are sometimes performed together and sometimes apart, they are never again one. The question lingers long after the screen goes black: what else have we taken for granted?

I was so moved by this poignant portrayal of the intricacies within a relationship between a father and daughter as they both navigate what can be a very ugly world. Performed by Flatfoot’s Sifiso Kitsona Khumalo and his daughter, Lethiwe Zamantungwa Nzama, I was reminded throughout this beautifully crafted piece of what a gift it is to nurture artistry within a family. The playful nature of their garden duet takes on a haunting feel as we hear the internal monologue of a father concerned for his daughter in a time where violence against women and children surrounds them — a double threat for them both. We experience his fears on a loop until the beautiful moment where they revisit their opening duet but, this time, he appears to give in to a tangible sense of connection. The difference? For a short time the newspaper bearing stories of the outside world is nowhere to be seen and the fears that had seeped into the consciousness of a man charged with protecting his child have been replaced by a moment of mutual love and respect with his daughter. Perhaps if love and respect for women and children was properly inculcated in the home Nzama’s question of “Why are women and children disappearing?” would not feel as heavy as it does when it falls from this young girl’s mouth.

The quirky Control Alt-Delete had me giggling from the very start of the piece to the very end. In what was a brilliant use of stop animation, Teagan Peacock’s ode to our struggle to find control and subsequently lose it — again and again — was the perfect space for acknowledging the overwhelming need for structure in our current climate. This collaborative piece in partnership with Jono Hornby saw Peacock make effective use of minimalism: a blank wall, a few intriguing props and her quirky self. The piece, which could have easily fallen into a trap of over-simplifying such an issue, was elevated beautifully by the eccentricities of a clearly imaginative mind. The cyclical structure of our current circumstances was reiterated in a fun and yet strangely profound way… and I laughed out aloud at the idea that the lights coming up ruined the fun of the audience seeing a lot of themselves on screen until then. How awkward!

Taking us through a myriad of experiences we are transported through time and space as we begin to deconstruct the inequalities of power that are further exacerbated by Covid culture in Space of Colour. The opening duet between choreographer Tshediso Kabulu and dancer Motlastsi Khotle set up a stark impression that “a collective loneliness has arrived” and it was that strong sense of juxtaposition that was felt throughout this piece. It was exhilarating to experience a series of intimate and aesthetic encounters between entities that would not usually be obligated to confront one another suddenly being forced to do so on screen. And yet, amongst the layers of thought-provoking imagery and ideas, it was that poetic connection between the spoken word of Khwezi Becker and the final moment of performance that stayed in my mind for hours afterwards.

And in the final piece of JOMBA! Digital Edge, Shadow by Zinhle Nzama and Kirsty Ndawo provides us with a unique insight into friendship in a time where there are only so many ways you are permitted to be there for one another. Two bodies sit in a garden, one crafting a flower crown in the hair of the other, as we experience a moment of voyeurism, looking in on an intimate moment of their togetherness and companionship in the stillness and calm. And then the scene changes. Both friends sit, separated, on a bench and a flower used for the crown is offered from one to the other gently, accepted carefully and is a tangible indication of just how scary the simplest touch has been rendered in our current world. Our lives, and theirs, are suddenly off-kilter and we are out of synchronisation with one another as we fight an invisible enemy and try to reclaim those calm, contented moments that we might once have shared in the garden. To just be. But be together.

The nine Digital Edge works are available free for view for the duration of the Digital JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience. They are a fascinating exploration of both content and construction, chronicling the diverse and far-reaching consequences of a worldwide pandemic on digitalised dance. In a world that can often feel devoid of meaning right now, these choreographers are the new generation of meaning-makers and I cannot wait to see what they do next!

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JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience

JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience

24th annual JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience 30 August – 11 September 2022 (hybrid festival)