Unmute, choreographed by Andile Vellem, is a production by Unmute Dance Company, whose vision is to inspire inclusion of people with disabilities within society through the arts. Important issues and topics are raised and interrogated in Unmute… but I’m not sure I entirely enjoyed it… Others have raved about the production here and here. And I agree with much of what they’ve written.
I agree that the marginalisation the production addresses is essential to the South African dialogue we need to be having. Daily. It’s important to address problems in communication. It’s important to interrogate notions of “normalcy” and the limitations imposed on South African people every day because of where or how they don’t “fit”.
Unmute addresses negotiation, in public and private spaces. And nothing could be more important in South Africa’s current context. The choreography highlights how to attempt new ways, new solutions, new offers, new acceptance… the dancers demarcate their spaces and decide when to welcome someone in, or when a shift in place is required to accommodate someone else.
Absence is important in Unmute too: absence of limb; absence of sound. And in South Africa… absence of facilities that equalise and stabilise the difference between all the different types of bodies.
Yet… the work didn’t hit many nerves for me. The performers work incredibly hard. The choreography is challenging and seems to explore all the possibilities for dancing on, in, with and around a wheelchair – this is impressive. But somehow the emotional connection to the movement remains one-dimensional and the overall rhythmic phrasing doesn’t fluctuate enough to allow for truly impactful moments.
Unmute has me thinking about the preconceived ‘standards’ of what dance is, and who can dance? Contemporary dance has long challenged the criteria for what a dancer can be, and Unmute works to further disrupt these criteria. But to approach this work without the same expectations as other dance works would be unfair to the artists involved. As Unmute proposes, differences in body, in physical ability, should not be reason to treat any one differently.
I am glad my perspective on South African contemporary dance has been broadened and festival audiences could benefit from a bit more of that.
– Sarah Roberson
Unmute is performed by Andile Vellem, Nadine Mckenzie, Zama Sonjica, Yaseen Manuel.
Click here for production info. Unmute is on tomorrow 04 July @ 10am @ the Gymnasium.