Profile: Rock to the Core shakes a machete at privilege

Photo: Oscar O’Ryan

Back in March, the svelte glamour of the Fleur du Cap awards – Cape Town’s big night out – was interrupted by four woman dressed in tatty fishnet bodysuits tottering down the red carpet with the old South African oranje blanje blou on their bums.

These black women, holding crude cardboard signs denouncing the skewed racial representation of awards nominees, who inexorably and precariously advanced on coffee tins strapped to their feet, were not supposed to be there. They were a glitch in the well-rehearsed proceedings. A protest.

Now, six months later, that protest led by acclaimed dancer and choreographer Mamela Nyamza with Chuma Sopotela, Zikhona Jacobs, and Buhlebezwe Siwani, has developed into Rock to the Core, a full-fledged performance having its world premier at the Cape Town Fringe festival.

By the way, world premier means world premier not only because Rock to the Core will be touring to Germany, but because Mamela has received international recognition over the last decades of devising and choreographing her own work, and is likely to be invited to show the work elsewhere.

Besides the fact that only 22 of the 74 nominated Fleur du Cap artists were black, that Mamela finds it easier to obtain recognition overseas than at home was also one of the factors behind the protest, which was a way of breaking the doors down for younger artists such as Chuma, Zikhona, Buhlebezwe, and Indalo Stofile, who is also included in the Rock to the Core cast.

Although that protest was applauded by the Fleur du Cap audience, development of the resulting work has ironically been largely supported by SPIELART festival in Germany, not a South African producer.

Mamela says she also embarked on a successful crowdfunding campaign and the Institute for Creative Arts at UCT came to the table with rehearsal space, but the general lack of local production support for the arts, particularly black artists, irks her.

While international recognition is great, “I want to be seen at home”, she says. “Why should we have to go overseas to be known?”

This is particularly poignant coming from a dancer who won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for dance in 2011, one of South Africa’s most prestigious arts awards.

Which is also partly why the Fleur du Cap protest was developed into a full-fledged work with younger, but “rock solid” artists.

It is certainly worth seeing anything Mamela devises and performs (even if it ‘just’ a protest), we have raved about her work on The Critter before (and we’re not known to rave easily), and her use of the term ‘rock solid’ to describe the cast is not hubris.

Actors Chuma Sopotela and Indalo Stofile were “vibrant” and gave “lithe, punchy performances” in OoMaSisulu at the National Arts Festival last year. Chuma has also been praised for her acting in the award winning Karoo Moose directed by Lara Foot.

Besides Mamela’s dance and choreographic excellence, what pushes her work into the realm of extraordinary art is her conceptual grasp that crosses boundaries of genre and discipline with ease. Her mind simply arcs over barriers that would stymie those less gifted with vision. Hence Buhlebezwe Siwani, who is a visual artist in the cast, who Mamela says literally works with rocks (or bricks if you like) that add metaphorical layers to Rock to the Core.

The hip fashion blog Skattie was very impressed with Buhlebezwe’s Master’s exhibition at Michaelis last year.

Mamela has in past works proved herself a metaphor master, her thinking runs deep, layer added upon layer until we get giddy and topple over, saturated.

Rock to the Core promises to fulfil expectations. Talking about the work just hours before the premier, the ideas, layers and left-field links pour out of her.

She talks of the idea of rock divas, the performer as carrier of desire, and how disabling the constant need to perform becomes. There’s also the performer, particularly the black perfomer, as labourer. Sheepskin makes an entrance, playing with people as sheep, herd mentality, and wolf in sheep’s clothing. There’s the rocks Buhlebezwe builds with, the reference to strike a woman you strike a rock, and the fight for artists to have homes, to have security, there’s a rocking chair in there and of course, given the genesis of the work, there needs to be a trophy.

There’s also pangas, knives, and you may get a bit of meat to eat. The performance is bound to be provocative, probably confrontational, but with Mamela at the helm, you’ll be drawn in by curiosity, seduced by beauty and intrigued by the many layers of meaning.

It is also fitting that this world premier is at the Zolani Centre in Nyanga, and not in a mainstream theatre. That is pure Mamela.

Rock to the Core is on at the Zolani Sport and Recreation Centre tonight (Fri) and at the Theatre Arts Admin in Obs on Saturday and Sunday. Don’t miss this, book here.

  • This content was sponsored by Mamela’s Artistic Centre

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