Kamara, performed by Pacofs graduate trainees. ©Tsioharana Rabearivelo and ©Siphosihle Mkhwanazi
Dramatic. That’s a one word descriptor for Kamara, staged by Pacofs at the Arts Incubator’s Trade Fair hosted by the Windybrow Arts Centre at the Market Theatre this week.
But the dramatism undermines the substance of the work. It feels like there is too much thrown at it rather than just working on the interplay between narrative and movement as the Pacofs graduate trainees mix poetry and dance to deliver a tale of good vs evil.
It has a tragic ending, which is the most thought-provoking part of the work, suggesting that no victory is won without moral compromise. The very battle against evil results in the inevitable loss of innocence on the part of the good. Things are irrevocably changed, there is no return to Eden.
This idea is exquisitely explored by author Ursula K Le Guin through her fantasy novel The Word for World is Forest, in which a race of indigenous people, highly sensitised to their environment, rebel against the slavery imposed on them by intergalactic colonialists. The oppressed, if they choose to fight for their freedom – which they are morally impelled to do – have to shift from their non-violent culture in order to meet the violence of the oppressor. Having done so, return to the precolonial culture is no longer possible. The parallels with our own struggle against colonialism and apartheid are impossible to miss. I’m not sure if Kamara intended to explore the idea of the tragic change conflict creates, but I’m hanging onto it.
The story, or prophecy, of a girl and her horse stampeding to the village well to save the villagers from an undetermined evil, is related by the evil ‘atheist praying mantis’ himself, played by Kwena Peu, who wrote the mystical poetry.
He unleashes his red dogs of destruction (Thabo Leecoko and Molefe Masilo) who are confronted by the blue girl, danced by the muscular dynamo who is Mamakhooa Jane.
There is a shaman, played by choreographer Motlatsi Khotle. There are chains, there is blue paint, there are sjamboks. There is red and blue lighting diffused by a smoke machine in overdrive. Unfortunately, there is also a horse, played by Lawrence Mongalo. Lawrence wasn’t the problem, he valiantly snorted and stomped and did a worthy impression of horsiness, which was severely hampered by the horse head strapped to his chest. I couldn’t quite make out what the horse puppet was made of. Wire, certainly, partially covered by fabric of some sort, with bug eyes and no capacity for movement. Its amateurism makes it unintentionally comic, a stark revelation of the reason why companies specialise in puppetry. Ditching the horsehead would undoubtedly improve the work. What to do then is something director Jojo Mokirisi would have to figure out but perhaps Lawrence can be given the freedom to just act the horse.
Another note, if you’ll allow it, is that Motlatsi might consider dispensing the erratic dance moves he performs as he paints and dresses the defeated Molefe – who as a dancer possesses the rare combination of size and agility. Just perform the task, which in itself is tender. Simplicity is normally the best option, especially when you have performers with so much potential.
Kamara plays again as part of a day of eight shows presented by the Arts Incubator’s Trade Fair on Saturday at 14h45. All the plays will be showing in the Market Theatre precinct, tickets only R30.