A man walked into a bar

Sometimes I have to lean in is a gutting dance performance that puts its hand into your emotional chest and rummages around, producing fart jokes, amongst other bits and pieces.

Inside — and sometimes out — I bawled the whole way through. I don’t know why, but something about these two old “ballies” — their characters, not their real ages, but close enough — leaning into their past lives as performers, artists, men, South Africans, wit ous in Azania — totally wrecked me.

It was so searing, so self-deprecating, so ruthlessly gutting, I was not fooled by the creative pretence of “normality” of just Gerard and Alan leaning in. Like surgeons, they are reaching into our emotional chest, rummaging around and coming out with bits and pieces, a fart joke, an incredible “a man walks into a bar” “joke”, Alan’s parent’s from Benoni being invited to his coming-out piece of dance… Two men in shabby chinos and linen jackets, a dark, black little Rhodes Box Theatre, a disco mixing desk, two chairs and some beautiful, sensual lighting, and the stage is set for a fabulous journey through SA life, the festival even, through the language of the body in dance performance. Through art.

They DJ some well-chosen “pop” pieces, which are curated to sound mellifluous and perfect for the movement which despite Gerard’s “I would have liked to have lost a bit of weight for this dance”, is lithe, rubbery, and at the climax, razor-edged with sensuality and intensity.

Look for the moment when Bester, boxed in white light leans against the darkened wall and the sweat of the gargantuan effort of performance gleams onyx black on chalkboard charcoal. We, the onlookers, are being ridden like feral Makhanda donkeys in this potholed festival by these masters of performance, and we loved it — at the end stunned silence, and then the modest audience of 35 or so, got up and gave it an ovation.

This is a moment of triumph in a country mired in a sociocultural regimen which has attempted to eviscerate and cancel rebellious avant-garde theatre. But here we are, celebrating 50 years of in-your-face creative blood and sweat genius at the National Arts Festival, with a feisty little piece that just leans all over and grinds that stompie of cultural, nationalistic fascism.

And at the end we are truly finished, pummelled and rocked, massaged and calmed, reduced to leaning back with the gentlest of hands cradling our neck, held in the most loving, trusting, supportive embrace.

Sometimes I have to lean in… an interdisciplinary collaboration between choreographer-performer Alan Parker and director-performer Gerard Bester, was performed in the Rhodes Box at the National Arts Festival from 20 – 22 June 2024.

Production Manager: Gavin Krastin; Text (“Wallflower”): Gwydion Beynon

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