The cycle of birth, life and death is a rather large theme to tackle in a performance. Although, at the same time, perhaps the simplest. All encompassing, yet something each one of us has experienced, is experiencing, and will experience. Or perhaps we’ve experienced it all before, many times.
Whatever your view, it’s almost impossible not to experience a sense of the universe’s embrace while watching Billy Langa perform in Tswalo. Mystical is made manifest. It’s the textbook religious experience. Gurus could get some tips from the combination of lighting, voice and movement Tswalo delivers. Billy might get disciples.
The poetry of the text, written by Billy with input from director Mahlatsi Mokgonyana, is a version of Paradise Lost, and found, told before we walked away from our place of birth and never written. It channels the ancients. It’s the Ashanti, Mapungubwean, Carthaginian and Egyptian sages singing a vision of past present and future into being, bending time into an ever-widening spiral Billy steps across at will.
A tattered blanket the only prop, his voice becomes the body, his body becomes a poem, conjuring suns, stars, galaxies, dancing with me you us.
“There is war in the belly of the heavens,” dances Billy. A woman with gold in her veins gives birth to twins destined to wrestle for life, knives, forks, spoons and the clacking of crockery, stars clothed in flesh, beauty made man, made woman, birth death rebirth.
Mahlatsi’s direction and lighting is like an invocation of universal laws; as sudden as the strike of lightning, as gentle and barely noticed as the fall of a leaf. Every shrug, every shift, every whisper every shout is perfectly placed. Tswalo invites us to dance to a rhythm we have never heard but know, and then allows us to watch ourself dancing. It is an extraordinary accomplishment.
Tswalo is part of the Cape Town Fringe and is on at the Theatre Arts Admin in Observatory tonight at 8 and tomorrow at 6pm. Book here.