Bothering with Bodies on the Fringe

Eugene Mashiane in Everlast (in MIDM's ...feathers...) Photo by Ruphin Coudyzer.

Eugene Mashiane in Everlast (in MIDM’s …feathers…) – photo by Ruphin Coudyzer.

“What’s On?” write-ups aren’t much fun to do. Feeling responsible for others’ possible disappointment after ‘recommending’ a piece without having seen it. Being careful not to sound biased (I might have liked a company’s work before) and being inclusive (for democracy) at the risk of suggesting everyone see everything. Tough task.

And the threat to credible critique lingers: treading the fine line of PR and advertising… not in arts criticism, hell no!

But there are things I confidently punt and invite festival audiences to do. Engage in some dance and physical theatre, for the love of the shimmying, two-step, or square-dancing gods.

I took on defending the ‘esoteric’, ‘perplexing’, ‘experimental’, ‘laboratory’, ‘brave’, ‘avant-garde’ stuff many years ago when a goading good friend stated, “what’s the point of physical theatre, no one understands it anyway, you all just roll about on the floor making grunting noises”. Yes, sometimes, and why not? But more often than not, it’s more than that. So much more.

So, why bother with theatre that uses the body to communicate instead of a tidy scripted drama that we can (on a spoken-language level) understand? Well, there’s the long and the short of it. The long will be thoroughly covered in the coming days of fest given the multifarious works on offer… The short is: because we’re invited to see and experience things differently from how, and what, we’re shown every other day in life.

That’s important for self-awareness. Important for changing our perspectives. So that we might assist others in understanding theirs. Because the world is really not ok… otherwise we wouldn’t have to witness, endure, and be horrified by the hate crimes reported daily in worldwide news. Orlando homophobia. Britain-EU aftermath racism. And the incidents that don’t make mass media “newsworthiness” – the daily viscous violence on our SA doorsteps.

And with this, the importance of physical theatre, dance, the focus on the body over the verbal? These forms speak directly to the subject matter – our internally same but outwardly differing bodies – in sexual identity, female/male prescribed roles, gendered identity (the patriarchy!), skin colour, same-sex affection, religious ‘dress’, economic status ‘dress’, otherly-abled bodies… the list goes on. Our bodies, more than our complex minds, determine what we know, how we are treated and how we treat others, the ‘other’.

Now that we’ve got that in mind, “What’s On?” so we can experience it all..?

Browsing through nearly 60 dance and physical theatre productions, there’s a strong presence of current students and alumni alike from Grahamstown’s Rhodes University (or UCKAR) Drama Department, renowned for producing physical theatre legends such as Andrew Buckland, Gary Gordon, Rob van Vuuren, Craig Morris and Athena Mazarakis.

The three current Masters choreography students present Choreo/PLAY, each with stylistically different work: Ga(y)me(n)Play by Kamogelo Molobye, Finding Upright by Maipelo Gabang, and I am Dedanisizwe by Lenin Shabalala.

Artists from the Rhodes ilk infiltrate the dance and physical theatre fringe, and usually deliver on their promises of excellence. On offer is Death of a Clown (Richard Antrobus, Tristan Jacobs and Ryan Napier); Giftig and Burn (Bailey Snyman); If These Bodies Could Speak (Nicola Haskins); Sacre For One (Alan Parker); Father, Father, Father (Joni Barnard and Rachael Neary); Blue (Simona Mazza and Tyson Ngubeni); Ingrid (Maude Sandham, Ester Van Der Walt, Lea Vivier); With/Hold (Magdalena De Beer, Ameera Mills, Kate Pinchuck and more); Fabric of the Universe (Lexi Meier); and the must-see Home, choreographed by RU graduate Nomcebisi Moyikwa, who also hails from the festival’s birthplace, Grahamstown.

More G-town locals are representing on the physical theatre front – Uyabona Ke, a group of physically adept clowning performers, showcase Waterline and Falling Off The Horn (directed by RU MA director Sam Pennington) this year; and Via Kasi Movers (supported by Ubom! Eastern Cape Drama Company) present Umavusana: Loxion Story.

Beyond the Rhodes alumni and EC artists, many SA companies share the fringe’s stages in physical expression. Look out for the CT based Underground Theatre’s Pulp, Ebola featuring Hilda Cronje, JHB based MIDM’s …feathers…, Prince Lamla’s (2013 SBYA winner for Theatre) To 4rm, and …if the world was listening by Durbs based Phakama Dance Theatre.

There’s more than enough movement to get your heart racing and your mental cogs spinning.

When it comes to dance and physical theatre on the fringe, these genres deliver true to what a fringe programme is meant to be – different, edgy, provocative, chance-taking and cage-rattling.

-Sarah Roberson

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