JOMBA! Fringe simmers, disturbs, agitates and erupts
By Tammy Ballantyne (guest writer)
29th August, 2017, Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, UKZN
One of the best programmes to watch at any dance festival is the Fringe: for me it’s a way into young, developing artists’ heads. It’s a full-on close-up view of how they are thinking, creating, wondering and reacting to the world around them; reading the programme notes beforehand can never really prepare one for the outpouring of ideas and the passion which they’ve invested in their works.
We won’t always like every work; but we will definitely be shocked, saddened, challenged and moved — some of us gathered outside afterwards feeling overwhelmed by the images; respect for the courage shown by some who tackled political and social issues and a pressing need to process and manage the content and forms of the offerings.
“Aslama” by Cape Town choreographer Yaseen Manuel delved deep into his feelings about being a young Muslim in SA; dressed in white with a scarf around his head, Manuel fluidly and dynamically danced his anguish against a backdrop of violent scenes from the Syrian massacre and interrogates the choices of dying by a bullet or God. Manuel is a delight to watch; his is a strong choreographic voice.
Two powerful works by young female choreographers took the themes of abuse against women and self-loathing into dark and disturbing realms. Qiniso Zamandla Zungu (Manzini Theatre Productions) bared not only her soul but her body in “Isililo”, literally a cry, as she sharpened knives and poured “blood” upon herself. Graphic video imagery flickered on the back screen but perhaps it was unnecessary as her presence on stage is powerful enough to hold its own. “Sullied” by Kristi-Leigh Jean Gresse, took us into an underworld of control, power and submission — strong images of the tin bath and water trickling over bare breasts, a menacing mannequin draped in black with a hat, all played out to the riveting poetry by Nicole Masuku. The interaction between the two performers, Gresse and Julia Hosmer, created the right amount of discomfort in the audience.
Bonwa Mbontsi and Francis Menningke from Pietermaritzburg-based company Bonwa Dance Company invoked the spirit of “wathint abafazi wathint imbokodo” in “Yakhal’ Imbokodo”, literally weeping rock. The metaphors were strongly illustrated through the keening, violin-playing figure in black at the back, the cairn of sacred rocks at the front and the male energy that seeks to possess and overpower those rocks which found their own voices and raised them in protest.
Another work using rocks, this time painted white, was Vusi Makanya’s “Iphupho” under the banner of KMSDT Professional Development. With a large cast, beautifully costumed and with an Eastern flavour, the work used clearly delineated ritualistic patterns and strong rhythms with the theme of discovering the purpose of dreams.
Two contrasting pieces offered us sweet moments of intimacy and gentleness: “Now and Then” with Lucia Walker and Mandla Matsha composed the work in the moment, an “instant composition”. It was a wonderfully nuanced, rhythmic and unpretentious work with superb interaction between dancer and musician and a variety of musical instruments contributing to the ambience. It was a brief lull within the turmoil. Likewise, JC Zondi’s “Intimate” from Pietermaritzburg, took us into a safe place of exploration, contact work and personal space. Four assured performers took us on a journey of what it feels like to be intimate on stage, mirroring our personal relationships in our lives.
This work was honoured with the “Pick of the Fringe” at the end of the evening.
“Izilwimi/Speaking in Tongues” by Jabu Siphika from Flatfoot with the youngsters from the Flatfoot Advanced Dance Development (ADD) project impressed with the confidence of the performers around the theme of communal sharing of stories. Jarryd Watson’s Dance movement crew provided the audience with thrills as hip hop dancers popped, krumped and locked with dancers in wheelchairs in a visually appealing “Fix who we are”.
“Triptych”, a dance film by Kirsty Ndawo, Shelby Strange and Thobile Maphanga, explored the idea of disruption when a newcomer arrives in a space through a triptych of duets. They are to be congratulated on their first foray into making dance for film and collaborating with cinematographer Devin Macfur. The film is shot in a garden, a house and a car — great colours, soundtrack and performances shot through with intensity, a bit of gritty aggression and robust choreography.
Several works would have more impact with serious editing — less is always more; young choreographers need to find the value in stripping the ideas to the single essence and using the power that lies therein. And video projections don’t always enhance, sometimes they detract — the moving body in a space with good lighting can hold an audience if the ideas and concepts are strong and execution potent.
This year the call for applications for the Fringe programme brought in over 40 expressions of interests, which were whittled down to ten. Kudos to the Jomba! team for making this space available for these brave voices and brave bodies who will not be silenced.