Down to the Marrow: Introspection on identity

“Ndlelanhle” in performance, part 2 of Down to the Marrow. Photo by Jan Potgieter.

Down to the Marrow is a work in two parts. The first is “Ukubona Ngokwami”, a duet choreographed and performed by Jabu Siphika and Zinhle Nzama, and the second, “Ndlelanhle” is a quintet performed by the newest generation of Flatfoot Dance Company’s professional dancers, choreographed by Sifiso Khumalo.

Together these works take an intimate inward gaze to what creates identity, to what our inherited heritage contributes to our understanding of ourselves, and to peeling back the layers of society-dictated, learnt behaviour to discover what lies beneath.

Carrying shiny gold high heels, a woman (Nzama) in a red dress enters. She slips one foot into the strappy shoe, winding its long straps up her calf. Around her knees she winds a rope, rendering herself unstable. She gags herself. Speech restricted. Movement restricted. She is silenced and this paralyses her.

Another woman (Siphika) enters the space. With one hand covering her mouth, she pulls and pushes her head repetitively, creating a ‘no’ nodding. She dances alone.

As Siphika dances solo downstage in vivid, released movements, upstage Nzama is motionless, watching her. Slowly, in recognition, she begins to replicate moments from Siphika’s dance – a hand lifted in greeting, a leg raised in taking a step…

As the piece progresses, layers of their dresses are shed, and as this happens, the dancers move closer and closer together – in physical proximity and in movement language as they move in unison or rest their heads against each other. Alongside each other, their arms reach up and over, they’re teetering on the precipice, but in finding their balance they can relax into gently bouncing on their haunches. Alone, they struggled. Together, they are a force.

Jabu Siphika and Zinhle Nzama are nuanced dancers, carefully using their training to make meaning with their bodies, with a simple and refined movement language. They flow together so well we don’t notice the ‘set up’ before lifts or jumps – which is testament to their performing skills and the close choreographic attention to detail.

As the women exit, we notice the men have appeared in a far corner. Almost as one, they crawl on all fours within a long, diagonal beam of light.

In “Ndlelanhle”, five men dance a dance that’s stylistically raw. Small flicks of the hands, a wiped brow, quick smacks on their own bodies… these gestures are seamlessly merged into soft, sweeping, swaying movements. By lining up, they set up a formal structure, then proceed to break free of it one by one. One becomes two, drawn to the excitement of release. With increasingly athletic movement, two becomes three, then eventually five. Sustained backbends have now built to high leaps and quick, rhythmic stomps. Each one’s movement fires another’s next step. Cause and effect.

A quick side note: what a pleasure to experience a cast well in tune with each other and the rhythm of the work, they spared us those distracting vocal cues which so many dance companies enjoy using when performing in unison.

Down to the Marrow is hypnotising and especially moving in the dancers’ honest, vulnerable presences. The choreography is seemingly pared down but there are complexities in the details and rhythm, and it feels refreshing and new.

Down to the Marrow has two shows left: today (03.07) at 18.00 and tomorrow (04.07) at 14.00. Click here for more information and bookings.

Director: Lliane Loots
Company: Flatfoot Dance Company
“Ukubona Ngokwami” – choreographed & performed by Jabu Siphika & Zinhle Nzama
“Ndlelanhle” – choreographed by Sifiso Khumalo & performed by Siseko Duba, Ndumiso Dube, Mthoko Mkhwanazi, Qhawe Ndimande & Sbonga Ndlovu

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