Dust, dance and forgotten communities in Byron Klassen’s “Gat Innie Grond, Wond in My Siel”
Garage Dance Ensemble’s Gat Innie Grond, Wond in My Siel (Hole in the ground, wound in my soul) by Bryron Klassen is a dance production which allows audiences a rare opportunity to walk in the shoes of the people of Namaqualand (Nababeep and Okiep). Namaqualand was once thriving, and famously known for its copper mining industry during the 19th century. But unfortunately, it was wrung out of all its beauty and minerals by colonisers and fortune seekers. All that seems to have remained are dusty mine ruins, its indigenous people and their stories. The work is inspired by research completed by Janine Lange, a PhD candidate at University of the Western Cape.
The production blessed us with not only the dance choreography but the privilege to experience the dance in Namaqualand amongst its people in their very own backyards. There is no clear divide between the dancers and the people of the community. Additionally audiences are offered a sense of regional aesthetics through the use of Khoi Khoi traditional attire and the ritualistic sensibilities as dancers perform around an open fire. The film is narrated by Esme Marthinus and Janine Lange who offer history, memory and politics infused into the soundscape of the work.
Marthinus to me embodies the typical aunt of South Africa. Watching her prepare ukuxova (bread dough) for baking, I saw the spitting image of my aunt. From first glance all you might only see these women as ‘old’, but these are the women who bind the community together. They have raised their children, cared for their parents, their sisters and brothers’ children while remaining hopeful for a better tomorrow… Like Marthinus, many women, many of our South African aunties, have woken up early every Sunday morning before church to hang the laundry on drying rack outside — always making sure to run their cloth on the washingline first to get of the dust that is everywhere…
Garage Dance Ensemble’s Gat Innie Grond, Wond in My Siel highlights the realities of these forgotten South African people. A people disenfranchised by histories of racism and sexism, obliterated by capitalisms greed, whose memory remains the thin space between remembrance and erasure. Klassen’s work becomes an indictment against erasure, a document and record that these people exist!
How bizarre is it that I know of this tiny place now, of its people and their way of life but I have never uttered one word to Esme Martinus and have never run my feet through this dust. I am left to wonder what will become of the people of Namaqualand. Will the predictions of Janine Lange in the closing moments of the dance film be true, will there soon be no one to walk the land?
They ask those who took advantage of their land to be forgiven — what strength one must hold, to look up at your Saviour and cry out the words: “Forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing”.