Dust doesn’t settle on the living resilience of O’kiep
The Garage Dance Ensemble presented Gat innie grond, wond in my siel as conceptualised and choregraphed by emergent choreographer Byron Klassen. In response to Janine Lange’s research into the gender and land politics of O’Kiep, an old mining settlement in Namaqualand, Klassen based his choreography on an investigation into the history and lives of this community. What he didn’t anticipate however, was how the community would engage with the filming of the choreography, letting their personal lives become its anchor. The result of this unexpected integration is a choreographic ode to the Nama people that blurs the boundaries between art and reality.
Throughout the performance, the dust that initially seems to define O’kiep, dances along to the intricate footwork of the performers. But the garbage of capitalism cannot smother everything.
Juxtaposed to the intricate movements and vitalised bodies of Klassen’s multi-textural choreographic practice, are intimate and moving accounts of the life of Esmé ‘Miemie’ Marthinus. Marthinus laments for a contemporary society which concerns itself more with money and alcohol than the lives of a people in pain, the lives of a community with a wounded soul.
What seems to relieve Marthinus is her faith. The performance moves beyond the earthly virtuosic and reaches for dizzying spiritual heights. Faith brings her community together and unites them against the aridity of the dust. It cannot be taken away. It can never be poisoned. It can never die.
Gat innie grond is characterised by organic movements that arise out of the mundane everyday activities in the O’Kiep community. The bustle of mornings and the play and singing of afternoons become the stage where unhurried and subtle movements grow into powerful solos infused with traditional Khoekhoe dance. This pastoral life, however, is not romanticised.
Klassen allows us to glimpse into the painful family relationships and loss of livelihoods that have come as a result of mismanagement and corruption. The hole in the earth, left by exploitative mining corporations is the wound in the souls of the people left behind. Gat innie grond is not a makeshift re-enactment but a foregrounding of the lives we often pretend don’t exist. It puts these lives centre stage, worthy of being witnessed as they move, literally, into hope.
The people of O’Kiep are not invisible. They never have been. All they’ve needed is a stage… and someone willing to see them.