Wanderer: all that glitters is not gold

Wanderer in performance

Yowzerz. It’s easy to figure out how Wanderer was selected for the main. Energy! Pizazz! All the lights! Smoke! Live electric guitar! Pow! Dance technique to kill for! Phwoah!

Six athletes power through a gruelling performance alternating between action packed unison and duet battles and mechanical gestural work and stiflingly still moments. Their movement quality is gold standard, crisp as the morning dew.

But beyond the sparkling wrapping paper and professional packaging, was there a thoughtful prezzy inside?

I believe festival audiences might be torn on this one. Because who doesn’t like a taste of the impressive, the all stops removed, the furiously “artsy” dance? You’re getting your money’s worth. You’re getting a show.

Sometimes you think you want the bicycle with the tassels on the handlebars but all you really want is another of granny’s handknitted jerseys. It’s exhilarating to race downhill – weeeee! But that thrill is fleeting and a steeper hill is needed every time. But that jersey gets more comfortable and treasured every time you wear it, love woven into every stitch.

Wanderer provides the rush; it’s sexy and fancy and glam. Avant-garde! Yes.

But it felt so cold.

The dancers gaze ‘out there’ towards us, but they seem disengaged. I got the sense they were concentrating so hard on ‘being’ in their underworld they lost themselves in it – and forgot to open up and soften that gaze to let us in too.

Distanced from their insular place, I checked out. Nothing wrong with allowing yourself to be entertained with some flashy grandeur for a bit. So I sat back and watched what Euros can buy. Top quality instrument and sound system setup; pity it was used for a continuous strum-strum, neeeyaw, eventually making predictable the rise and fall of the mini-climaxes. And that lovely Great Hall venue reserved for the Main Dance elite has the most awesome rig. Every colour of the rainbow and beyond. Do wish they’d have raised the light a little at some points.

Then something happened. The up until now super-polished choreographic execution shifted with a costume change. A dancer dons a goat-skull headdress whilst the other performers pick up what to me resembles traditional dried grass skirts… As they do, they start to stomp around as if “going wild”. I’m the biggest embracer of anything off kilter but something isn’t reading right in this. Upon checking the programme later, it was explained that this is an invocation of ancient Alpine Bavarian rites. Alright… Still, I don’t know about my South African sisters and brothers in the audience, but I sniffed a whiff of cultural appropriation. I definitely saw a fellow cringer or two in front of me.

Some might raise the fact that the company has received international acclaim for its works and for its ethos in being culturally diverse. Their name is The People United and inclusivity is their calling card. But diversity doesn’t necessarily equate with sensitivity or understanding. Perhaps I’m too defensive of Africa and the European (or Western) sometimes sweeping assumptions of what our continent is all about… To repeat, this moment of “primitivism” was at odds with their otherwise calculated, clever, clean movement language. With us being a primarily African audience… perhaps there’s something to say here, perhaps not. I’m still processing as there’s heaps of imagery-laden material to wade through.

After my above moment of maybe-sensitivity, maybe-misunderstanding… Time to also be maybe-hypocritical. Wanderer’s exceptional dancers can afford to take themselves a little less seriously; their focused intensity comes across as over-expressive performativity and it becomes difficult to buy into what they’re doing, and therefore what they’re ‘saying’. A little vulnerability can go a long way. Especially if the work purports to be about shared human experiences that dissolve boundaries and connect all people.

Wanderer is next on tonight 05 July at 8pm and tomorrow 06 July at 11am. Details & bookings: click here.

Choreographer, set, costumes: Hannah Ma
Live music: Sebastian Purfürst
Costumes (Straw Elements): Ele Bleffert
Assistance: Christin Braband
Cast: Christin Braband, Sergio Mel, Saeed Hani, Valentina Zappa, Ileana Orofino
Company: hannahmadance/ The People United

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