Bitchin’ in the Kitchen: The Ovulation Awards

One liners and comments

Moonless: 99 red balloons meaninglessly invade the set. Shoot them down!

The Gospel According to Jan Coetzee: Matthew, Mark, Luke and Jan: Afrikaner wannabe Prophet, betrayed by his volk because he is too inclusive in his ministry of a freedom to doubt during Afrikaner Calvinism: Reza de Wet does Raiders (so many masterfully managed props.)

SA Media bunker: You stayed at home, missing the most dramatic media brunch ever. Brought the house down, almost.

Lies, lies and delightful propaganda: Lankester to the shocked media brunchers: “It’s performance art! (And nobody died).

Shortest review: The three-audience responses to It’s a Guy Thing: “It was shit.”

Still: Actor, plunged into darkness after taking too long to deliver  lines, bleats the last one into the abyss: “I love you!”

Kookalooks: Brendan and his friend come up with a killer marketing plan. An arrow through the top of the head.

Frogman: Australian version of a platana.

Umthombo: Paris fashion week eat your heart out – Share your secrets on how to fundraise.

Ja magazine called Critter “the old guard” but apologised for being ageist whippersnappers.

Metamorphosis: Life is long and painful enough; the show doses not have to be.

Samson: Audience split of Biblical proportions. Book of Brett.

Awards time!

National Research Foundation Award goes to Cellist with Rabies.

Climate chaos award: The Monument, for giving us a taste of the coming destruction of civilization as wind brings the roof down.

Paranoia award: Swarm Theory. Traffic officers had to be persuaded not to mace the actors which would have brought a sudden end to days, months, a lifetime of theoretical discussion. When it happened at the Village Green, umlungu festinoes thought the apocalypse had landed.

What Euros can buy award: Wanderer. Money lost in the frozen wasteland.

No need to worry award: I am Somebody – everyone loved you.

Jy’s cooler as ekka award, for a few 13-year-olds: No matter how rad or mind-blowing the show, you are still too cool to look up from your cellphone. That’s why you were seen on that big screen looking lame while everyone around you was rocking! It’s okay, we were there too, once.

Future imperfect award: Ersatz, or, the Descent of Man. The future man, half cyborg, living through a gaming virtual reality of violent destruction to finding a sweet, tender hominid in his paleontologist-described history. Great show.

Critter, leering at the Sunday programme, says: “Farewell to 10 days of amazing.”

Love ya.




The Bookbinder: Sometimes you have to break a leg to make an omelette

The power of a fairy tale is that good always triumphs.

No matter how many times you have to read the same story to your child their psyche needs the reassurance of safety provided by the story.

The Bookbinder’s apprentice is a hero’s journey is to heal the broken part of himself and the hole at the centre of the world.

The apprentice, is evocatively, mysteriously marvelously played by Ralph McCubbin Howell.

His roasty, gruff English sets up this dark fairy tale set in an atmospheric, Dickensian shop.

In fact, turns out we are the apprentices on a mission to save the world – after we have torn it up and burned a hole in its heart.

The stagecraft, set, use of lighting, and musical soundtrack are subtle and exquisite.

The use of a pop-up book and shadow puppetry were lovely aesthetic storytelling devices and there could have been more.

The text is rich fable with well-placed humour which broke tension and mitigated the darkness.

We are all bookbinders needing to repair the horror of our ways.




Moonless: A trick of the light

It’s strange to call a play involving the death of a child, suicide, and self-imposed isolation sweet.

But that’s the most apt description of Moonless, and it’s an ambiguous one. ‘Sweet’ is generally not a theatrical aspiration. Perhaps, given the subject matter in Moonless, this is quite an achievement, particularly as it is rather well-made.

Micia de Wet as the outsider artists (she sculpts) who chooses to cut herself off from society by refusing to speak and living as a hermit in the wilderness, is a magnetic performer who seems to have a natural bent for the physical demands of clowning. The set with its floor of loose paper sheets is intriguing, offering multiple possibilities, some of which are put to use.

The animated drawings projected on the back wall, and the moments of synchronisation with the performers draw our attention without overwhelming the stage despite the screen’s looming presence, and Gopala Davies as the grief-stricken father improves as he settles in to his role.

Yet Moonless fails to get below the surface. It has the substance of a reflection, its light fails to penetrate.

Puzzling over why this is, Occam’s razor leads me to the script. With one character mute, the lack of dialogue is an obstacle to poetic discourse and the revelation of deeper layers of character, but not an impassable one; clowning and non-verbal performance has the ability to reach deep into our emotional landscape and lead us into deep waters. Many artists have proven this.

Which brings us to the relationship between the grief-stricken man and the mute woman, the arc of which remains rather shallow. Although the impossible passes between them, they remain largely cut off from each other, preoccupied with their own despair, which is perhaps why I felt cut-off from them.

But what really keeps it at the level of ‘sweet’ despite all the elements in its favour, is the surfeit of whimsy, played out both in the storyline and the acting, and best symbolised by the large cluster of red helium-filled balloons taking up a significant corner of the stage. They do nothing, are not referred to and seem to only be there to look pretty. The only other possible reason for their inclusion – and this requires digging deeper than should be necessary – might be to signify the red horizon created by a never visible sun.

It is one line buried in the story revealing the geographical place the characters find themselves is the only one in the southern hemisphere that never sees the sun. A line pregnant with meaning but never further explored.

But seemingly superfluous balloons should not leave us feeling filled with little more than air.

Moonless plays at 6pm tonight (6 July) and 12pm tomorrow (7 July). Click here for details and booking.


Black Light: The underground is happening

The room is pumping. Strobes, smoke, the tang of spray painters, chest-bursting 80s electro-pop synth and base, and there above the DJ table are two artists posturing in glitter in a celebration of representational erotica which is so exaggerated it is hilarious and tremendous fun.
Hipsters and bohemians in flowy, grungy jackets and tight jeans and tops are grooving around this creative cavern at The Vic. They drift up to the jiving, gyrating deejays, who in the 70s would be called “Go-go girls”, but zip through to the future and see that these two are utterly different.
The sexual identity is not binary, here there be Drag Mother Tazmé utterly resplendent in drag, and – what the hell – my daughter Rosa-Karoo!
She, this child of DSG, Grahamstown, is back in Makhanda celebrating her identity with such er, gay abandon, that the dad inside, is shocked.
Like my father before, upon meeting her mother, Sheena, I am stunned.
Welcome to the underground. My underground!
This is Black Light, a happening not advertised formerly, but orally.. Instead of the usual format of a band and fans, this is a celebration of a number of art forms, of dance, banner art, the DJs who bounce into the crowd and wind them up, ending with a sublime, loud, eerie performance by Sabine.
Afterwards, my child, the dance vamp, describes how most of the crowd love it, but one jock has gotten into her face, and tried to grab her boob. When she snapped at him to get out of her body space, he became ugly and turned to his woman friend saying why would he want to anyway.
You see, out there in the world we want to release our expressions, but there are always the fascists, personal and political, who prowl and predate.
Love the underground!


Wanderer: all that glitters is not gold

Wanderer in performance

Yowzerz. It’s easy to figure out how Wanderer was selected for the main. Energy! Pizazz! All the lights! Smoke! Live electric guitar! Pow! Dance technique to kill for! Phwoah!

Six athletes power through a gruelling performance alternating between action packed unison and duet battles and mechanical gestural work and stiflingly still moments. Their movement quality is gold standard, crisp as the morning dew.

But beyond the sparkling wrapping paper and professional packaging, was there a thoughtful prezzy inside?

I believe festival audiences might be torn on this one. Because who doesn’t like a taste of the impressive, the all stops removed, the furiously “artsy” dance? You’re getting your money’s worth. You’re getting a show.

Sometimes you think you want the bicycle with the tassels on the handlebars but all you really want is another of granny’s handknitted jerseys. It’s exhilarating to race downhill – weeeee! But that thrill is fleeting and a steeper hill is needed every time. But that jersey gets more comfortable and treasured every time you wear it, love woven into every stitch.

Wanderer provides the rush; it’s sexy and fancy and glam. Avant-garde! Yes.

But it felt so cold.

The dancers gaze ‘out there’ towards us, but they seem disengaged. I got the sense they were concentrating so hard on ‘being’ in their underworld they lost themselves in it – and forgot to open up and soften that gaze to let us in too.

Distanced from their insular place, I checked out. Nothing wrong with allowing yourself to be entertained with some flashy grandeur for a bit. So I sat back and watched what Euros can buy. Top quality instrument and sound system setup; pity it was used for a continuous strum-strum, neeeyaw, eventually making predictable the rise and fall of the mini-climaxes. And that lovely Great Hall venue reserved for the Main Dance elite has the most awesome rig. Every colour of the rainbow and beyond. Do wish they’d have raised the light a little at some points.

Then something happened. The up until now super-polished choreographic execution shifted with a costume change. A dancer dons a goat-skull headdress whilst the other performers pick up what to me resembles traditional dried grass skirts… As they do, they start to stomp around as if “going wild”. I’m the biggest embracer of anything off kilter but something isn’t reading right in this. Upon checking the programme later, it was explained that this is an invocation of ancient Alpine Bavarian rites. Alright… Still, I don’t know about my South African sisters and brothers in the audience, but I sniffed a whiff of cultural appropriation. I definitely saw a fellow cringer or two in front of me.

Some might raise the fact that the company has received international acclaim for its works and for its ethos in being culturally diverse. Their name is The People United and inclusivity is their calling card. But diversity doesn’t necessarily equate with sensitivity or understanding. Perhaps I’m too defensive of Africa and the European (or Western) sometimes sweeping assumptions of what our continent is all about… To repeat, this moment of “primitivism” was at odds with their otherwise calculated, clever, clean movement language. With us being a primarily African audience… perhaps there’s something to say here, perhaps not. I’m still processing as there’s heaps of imagery-laden material to wade through.

After my above moment of maybe-sensitivity, maybe-misunderstanding… Time to also be maybe-hypocritical. Wanderer’s exceptional dancers can afford to take themselves a little less seriously; their focused intensity comes across as over-expressive performativity and it becomes difficult to buy into what they’re doing, and therefore what they’re ‘saying’. A little vulnerability can go a long way. Especially if the work purports to be about shared human experiences that dissolve boundaries and connect all people.

Wanderer is next on tonight 05 July at 8pm and tomorrow 06 July at 11am. Details & bookings: click here.

Choreographer, set, costumes: Hannah Ma
Live music: Sebastian Purfürst
Costumes (Straw Elements): Ele Bleffert
Assistance: Christin Braband
Cast: Christin Braband, Sergio Mel, Saeed Hani, Valentina Zappa, Ileana Orofino
Company: hannahmadance/ The People United