Doda: Damn the Man

Musa Hlatshwayo beats Sibonelo ‘China’ Mchunu with a dishcloth, in Doda. Photo credit: John Hogg.

I’ve always thought double bills are billed together to somehow ‘speak’ to each other. At least for me, Doda by Musa Hlatshwayo and In C by Louise Coetzer are polar opposites – besides sharing the same venue at the Dance Umbrella. Doda is furious and intense and expressive. In C is controlled and contained. Unlike the opening night’s double bill (read review here) these works require separate reflection. (So, below, Doda. In C, here.)

Having seen this work at the National Arts Festival 2017 (review here) I was keen to see how the work has grown in the eight months since then. In the meantime, Hlatshwayo received the 2018 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Dance. I’ll admit my expectations were quite high. And they were met.

Performed by Hlatshwayo and Sibonelo ‘China’ Mchunu, Doda addresses the learnt system of patriarchy in a two-hander dance-theatre piece which disturbingly illustrates the self-perpetuating cycle of back-slapping, congratulatory manliness. You’re the man! Throughout, Hlatshwayo plays the role of leader or elder or father who – directly and indirectly – teaches the younger man (Mchunu) about how to be ‘manly’ and the various incarnations of this state of being. Objectification of women, or sfebhe (bitches) we hear, holding a consistent aggro outlook, and territorialising the space with crotch-thrusts.

Hlatshwayo’s rendering of a sickening, victim-blaming preacher and the horrendous, lecherous dictator figure delivers a scornful edge to the piece. Plainly: men are crap; the patriarchy is very crap.

If the preacher stood alone in his twisted views that mothers are to blame for raising daughters who lure men to have sex with them (the subtext is rape) and kill them… fine, he’ll die out eventually. The problem is in his indoctrination of young men. He violently grips the skull of Mchunu whilst spewing his vitriol. This motif is present throughout. As Mchunu’s ‘character’ – who represents this generation of young men – begins to resist, or step out of line… Hlatshwayo is there, grabbing and forcibly directing his head in the ‘correct’ direction. Eventually, to escape the aggression, Mchunu joins ranks to become an abuser himself.

Hlatshwayo questions the role of culture and tradition in perpetuating patriarchy. Wearing the iconic contemporary ingwe Zulu vest, he and Mchunu throughout the work, incorporate imagery of traditional Zulu warrior dancing: fast back-swinging arms, and a lifted knee, ready to launch into the upward kick and loud stomp. In Doda they arrest the movement… yet the readiness to fight is ever-on-the-precipice.

Hlatshwayo demonstrates and Mchunu copies. Repetitively, a crotch grab accompanied by distorted and grotesque lip licking. Over and over until it’s ‘natural’. All the while, a recording plays of a man publicly and flippantly talking, “she wears nothing on top of her titties” … chortling from the crowd … “the chief has three wives; he’s still looking for a fourth” … more giggling. The connection of the diminutive word ‘titties’ for a little girl, with the word wife, whilst we watch the slimy crotch action on stage, says it all.

The superior dance talent seen so far at this Dance Umbrella is quite extraordinary, and Hlatshwayo and Mchunu deserve their places in the new generation of SA’s top dancer-performers. They sustain an intensive work, captivating and important, delivered with integrity and insight.

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