In Cut, it is as if Mantsoe is dancing Covid-19 for the whole world
By Tammy Ballantyne
Anyone who has watched Vincent Mantsoe live will know the visceral and intimate experience of participating in what has often felt like a spiritual encounter; where one engages with other worlds, where ancestors whisper and chant. His works take the audience on journeys into deep places, his individualistic style engaging and unique.
In a webinar hosted on 29 May, Mantsoe spoke of the difficulty in creating a work for an online environment, having to manage technology and the feeling of being truly cut off and in a space with only two cameras; no connection to a live audience from which he could harness his energy.
Created remotely in collaboration with musician Mpho Molikeng and filmmaker Frank Pizon, Mantsoe is alone, isolated in his studio in France. Molikeng’s haunting, discordant soundtrack (created using a multitude of traditional African instruments) echoes the chaos of the Covid world, the ever-present noise and jangling of news overload, screen time and our own jumbled thoughts. Perhaps they are the mashed up voices in Mantsoe’s own head.
Within the cacophony, he tries to remain fluid with deep lunges and his articulate spine; his breath pulling and pushing the air. It is as if he is summoning that elusive connection or through-line to other worlds, searching for the peace and calmness. Mantsoe’s hands tell a thousand dynamic stories as they squeeze, shake and twist.
I can hear the cow bells clanging, speeding up the tempo as the black screen that frames the work narrows and widens, a symbol of our lockdown entrapment in diminished spaces; our gaze is curated for us, there are no distractions, complete focus.
Mantsoe performs as if the camera isn’t there; the lived frustration and inner turmoil ransacks his body as he summons all his reserves, sucking in the air and gasping it out. He grapples with the effort to retain control, to squash the emotion, to hold it all together. The sweat is pouring off him, his shirt drenched.
Finally, the slowing down, the shoulders that rise and fall, the rhythmic shuddering eventually breaks the tension as he slowly exits the frame, his composure regained.
Despite Mantsoe’s reservations, the inherent power in the work is arresting and for many, who have never seen his work, this is a valuable resource and leads the way in terms of fresh aesthetics.
Cut is a 16-minute online work by Vincent Mantsoe created in remote collaboration with composer and musician Mpho Molikeng from Lesotho, and filmmaker Frank Pizon from France.
Cut is produced by The Market Theatre with the support of the French Institute of South Africa — IFAS Culture.