Look down High Street, past the cathedral to the shacks on the hill beyond. Take stock of its ragged crowded houses, its dirt roads, the mass of people living within. For the vast majority of people who call Grahamstown home, that is where it’s at, just across the Kowie ditch where the water is shallow but history still flows hundreds of years deep.
It’s where Rhodes student Nomcebisi Moyikwa lives. A place she explores through physical theatre in her Master’s work called Home.
Home, or some sense of it, or longing for it, or absence of it, is something we all share, a common human experience or desire, yet unique to each one of us. It seems it’s a frustrating place for Moyikwa, of unrelenting noise, of conflicting desires, of movement and stasis, a place one is caught rather than nurtured.
She signifies this with a stage crowded by nine performers, one of them cowering inside a tiny box of a house for most of the play adding his voice to an unrelenting percussive soundtrack, and a physical language that indicates constraint.
Movement is never free, getting from one point to another is a fight against other bodies, a frustration. The only option is to operate within the parameters created by fellow dancers, neighbours.
The physical vocabulary is underscored by the sparse spoken text which, interestingly, is in Sotho, not the Xhosa predominant in Joza: Tsamaya (move) and emma (stop) repeated at intervals throughout the work. Home is not a place of rest, or even a place she seems to always want to be, yet struggles to leave. Leaving is a fight, remaining a surrender.
Although all this was clearly articulated through a solid foundation of physical vocabulary, she needs to pay more attention to the finishes. The set and costumes were all a cool Nordic grey which seemed be a result more of a lack of design than a choice to highlight a sense of uniformity or architectural blandness. But then it’s her home, so what do I know? What I do know is that the dancers were mostly mediocre, Moyikwa being the most accomplished among them. They never looked at us, never invited us in, keeping us at a remove from the world they presented. More adept movers would have provided an edge of electricity that was lacking in what was too much of an amorphous mass.
Additionally, she overlooked one of the the best moments in the entire work, which occurred after the end as all the performers exited one by one in the dark out of the tiny house on stage. That was such a surprisingly humorous moment. We were startled that so much humanity can be contained in such a small space. All that was required was a light to include it as a beautifully illustrative endpoint to a work that holds all the tension of a lifetime of privacy compromised by a never-ending stream of semi-strangers.
Her foundation is secure, her brickwork well-laid, all that is needed is a focus on the finer materials.
Home is on tomorrow and Thursday. Programme and bookings here.
— Steve Kretzmann