Vroom! Vroom! Performance rubber hits the art road

SBYA winner Angel-Ho gets festival’s engine revving

Vroom! Vroom! Potato, potato! goes the familiar rev and idle of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle as the doors at the back of the theatre fling open and Angel-Ho rides in on pillion, belting out a song!

In front of the drag performer are her two dancers, Keagan Xavier and Sara LaBeija, who strike up poses of biker race hounds, heads forward, sprinting towards the line of … fun!

And pleasure!

For all the sassy, sexual references, all the flouting of conservative heteronormative culture, all the flamboyant, exuberant flashing and flaunting of queerdom, this is actually, just one moerse lakka partaay! 

This is beyond unexpected. Taking the dark, grim ride through the gouged, gravel remains of lower High Street up to Kingswood’s school hall at 8.55p, standing on the pegs of my motorcycle — adventure style — to see the potholes puts me into that flat, tired, why-am-I-here? mindset.

But I leave the gig energised, full of marvel and gratitude for one the most unlikely, most unusual and most entertaining micro-stadium shows ever experienced in my 32 National Art Festivals (NAFs).

Let me explain. Keep in mind, we are a small audience of 30, but the set for Dis My KANT is so smart and fresh, that the performers get the most out of us — squeeze us like a twisted lemon.

We are seated atop a two tiered u-shape bleacher, with a gap for the artists to mince, and sweep through. The single rows of black, shiny plastic chairs are turned to face the proscenium — and a tall catwalk built out for some strutting, camping, glamping and glitter-heeled stamping.

Release the titans of tremendousness, for you cannot be a gnarled old Grumpy in the onslaught of such a force of fabulousness.

We are up and dancing! An unlikely, clotty, aggregation of hard-core late-night festinoes.

Because Angel-Ho will have none of this weary slumping. We are firmly under orders of this delicious martinet of move-your-hips-and-jive, baby!

The assault is unbelievable, the music, or “sonic set” created by the DJ producer Angel-Ho in a tiny modest home in Cape Town, has never been heard by these ears. The beats are guttural and groovy.

The lighting ranges over us, part spotlight, part disco glitterball. And up on the stage, the screen projects way-out colour clips, split screen, braiding, ruby and smouldering purple black smoochie lips, hairdos — and eye-dos? — a spectacular pageant of makeup art in its own right.

On stage, Angel-Ho, does not allow the pace to slip, not for a second, as the cast whip in and out of outrageous outfits.

We are in the new world of gender identity, ironically unleashed for free public expression by our 1994 constitution, where queerdom has come to symbolise our continuing search and struggle for personal- social freedom and equality.

Angel-Ho, describes herself as a drag performance artist who identifies as “a feminine gender nonconforming queer African body”. Do not get this wrong for this is experienced as discrimination no different to racism.

Her body is far from a malnourished, cellphone advert, model — more Rubenesque, with an intriguing hint of lower back fur. This is an unfair observation? Not at all: everything on stage is curated to be visually and sensually explored and relished.

It is sumptuous in-your-face eroticism. Angel-Ho, her big Marilyn lipstick, beauty spot, and platinum-blonde curls, does not give a freak about the low-key NAF-fy attendance. The gaze in her eyes tells us she is performing for an underground warehouse pumping with 800 queers at a Death of Glitter all-night queer extravaganza, as happens in Cape Town.

Angel-Ho has a big, wide chest, and from it she belts out an extraordinary range of notes, some on key, others bounce through the potholes of sound, and some are flagrantly lip-synced!

And she does not care, for all that matters is pure performance — and we get it, and nobody gives a toss, we are just … On. The. Jol!

This is performance, it is art, it is rampant determination, it is original sophistication soaring off the burning rubber of raw, reckless biker courage.

And so we are uplifted from this dark, dreary and dangerous night. We are transformed into a fabulous fantasy.

And when it’s all over, Angel-Ho, 2024 Standard Bank young artist of the year for performance art, shines a spotlight on a neatly dressed women at the back, who wears standard mod, comfy festino wear, who is beaming and clapping, and gives thanks “to my mom”.

Angel-Ho @angelhoworldwide (Performer, Creative Director); Kisting Poking @pokingkirsten (Stage Manager, Assistant; Keagan Xavier @Keagan.xavier (Performer); Oyama Gonintebe @oyama_gonintebe (Designer); Alex Hendricks @1000thingza (Videographer); Sara LaBeija @sarasworld01 (Performer); Feroza Webster @feroza_webster (Designer)

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