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Monday, September 5, 2011


Durban crowds flock to JOMBA! City 2011 (Review by Samantha Daly)

This year’s JOMBA! City was well supported by Durban crowds when, on Friday, September 2, JOMBA! took over Anton Lembede Street outside the City Hall. Although occupying a smaller area than the RED EYE last year, the newly-branded JOMBA! City boasted a programme full of performances by local artists, AV installation pieces, live graffiti artists and live music including rappers and DJ’s. Despite this exciting line-up, I was left somewhat disappointed by JOMBA! City, feeling as though something was lacking.

The move towards installation performances is undeniable. Even last year, we saw the trend of installation art exploding onto the Durban art scene. The difference, however, is whereas last year the video or pre-recorded segment of the installation art was used to support the live performance, this year the recordings have, in most cases, replaced the live performance. This is problematic, I believe, since it is in the live performance where the viewer finds the essence of the performance.

Performance art, as most pieces at JOMBA! City claim to be, is underpinned by the core: live performer and/or demonstration. Almost always, a live performer who is interacting with an audience or passers-by, draws them into the performance by capturing their attention and curiosity. In my opinion, the installation art did not achieve this. It was far too easy to walk past the installation pieces without paying them their due amount of respect and attention. This is a failure and a problem, since not only is the artist’s hard work overlooked and underappreciated but the essence behind the work is often, tragically, lost.

That is not to say, however, there is no place for installation pieces without a live performance element. In fact, I believe this can be extremely powerful and successful, provided they are presented in the correct manner. Putting your audience into a room or area where they are forced to watch the piece properly, in its entirety, means the piece may be appropriately appreciated. However, presented as they were on Friday night, seemingly randomly, outside and mostly along the outskirts or perimeter of the area, meant the pieces were lost. I saw several people simply walking past these installation pieces, sometimes not realising they were even ‘performances’. It was a bad decision, which perhaps next year can be reviewed.

Another element which didn’t sit well with me was the overwhelming sense of exhibitionism on show at last week’s JOMBA! City. It appeared to be aimed more at being a street party, with several DJ’s and rap artists taking to the main stage to “get the party started”. The main stage was also the site for several dance performances, including a performance by Break-Thru Dance Company, Vusi Makanya, Tshwane Dance Theatre and Durban’s B-Boyz who teamed up with France’s Junior and Stylistik.

While the B-Boyz made a move to redefine break dance and hip hop as a “street” dance style, by putting it onto the stage, while at the same time wowing the crowd with their amazing skills and control when performing a choreographed piece and an impromptu “battle”, I felt the performances by Break-Thru Dance Company and Tshwane Dance Theatre were too commercial.

Displaying corporate-style, generic ballet and modern dance moves, these companies did little other than prance around in sequenced costumes. JOMBA! prides itself on showcasing some of the best national and international contemporary dance, all of which deals intently with some or other socio-political, personal issue and/or journey. It is the kind of dance which dance lovers like myself have come to expect, enjoy and love. It makes you think about something. Leaves you questioning. It creates some or other consciousness around an issue. Contemporary dance delves into the pools where no other art dares. It is cutting-edge and powerful.

The dance we saw at JOMBA! City was not powerful. It was not thought-provoking. While I do not deny there is a time and place for this kind of dance and performance, I doubt whether JOMBA! was the place for this?

Another problem I found with some of the dance performances was poor technical choices made by choreographers. Makanya’s piece, for example, contained spoken word which was completely lost due to the noise from the crowd and other performances. This meant the performer’s words were drowned. What did she say? I don’t know, and so I don’t know what the piece was trying to communicate. It’s like I never saw it. This is a tragedy since artists, especially in Durban, need to harness every opportunity to get their art seen and appreciated by any audience.

Nevertheless, there were a few performances at JOMBA! City which stood out for me. Firstly, Durban’s Lliane Loots and Doung Jaghangeer teamed up to present the poignant and visually powerful, ma d lamini. A ballsy and politically-charged performance, which saw Jahangeer paint the archaic statue of Queen Victoria brown, it was both shocking, beautiful and risky! Not only was he making a profound social and racial statement while deconstructing colonialism in Durban’s architecture, but standing on a rickety ladder without any harnesses or safety equipment several metres off the ground, added a physical danger to the performance.

Kieron Jina’s Picture This was another performance which stood out. A thought-provoking piece, Jina’s was one of the few installation pieces which contained a live performance element. Picture This was a hard-hitting performance which addressed issues around sexuality and gender. Three female performers, covered from head to toe in white paint and clothing, walked spasmodically around the circular performance space, one carrying a blow-up doll on her back (similar to the way in which mothers carry babies on their backs), one cradling a dildo, and the other holding an umbrella with what looked like used condoms hanging off the sides. The jerky, unnatural movements and vacant expressions on the performers’ faces, along with the eerie music, created a chilling, haunting image. These performers were supported by the video projection which showed two men kissing and fondling a blow-up doll like the one carried by one of the performers.

In the next instant, the audience found themselves witness to an intimate scene between two men. Intended to shock audiences and move them to a shift in consciousness through awkward and uncomfortable images, Picture This was a prime example of my earlier suggestion that installation art, with a live performance element can produce some of the most hard-hitting and dynamic art.

Edward Lloyd’s Gaia, Body and Soul was also a stand-out performance at JOMBA! City. Painted in white clay and sitting on a bench next to a hand-made ‘person’, Lloyd moved around the area. His shifting between fast and slow-paced movements in a work which addressed the notion of identity and the search for - and acceptance of - one’s identity, was a treat for audiences. The ghostly image of Lloyd, moving around the dark, almost in an eerie manner, was one which will not be easily forgotten.

Durban’s slam-poet, ewok was MC for the evening, introducing each performance and keeping the crowd entertained. He did a fantastic job, and had lots to say about the recent arrest of a group of seven graffiti artists who were accused of vandalism after painting a wall in Durban, which they had permission to do. A cause close to his heart, being a graffiti artist himself, ewok was instrumental in stirring up much support for the “gang” of graffiti artists, as they have been mislabelled. In protest against their unlawful arrest, sheets of paper were taped to the ground where anyone could add their own “graffiti”. It was the perfect stage upon which to create support for the cause, although I think it was a case of preaching to the converted, as many of those who attended the JOMBA! City shared the same sentiments as ewok. While this was not a performance, it was another example of the sort of conscious-raising work which we have come to expect of JOMBA! – Samantha Daly