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Monday, September 5, 2011


Stunning performance from Dada Masilo in fantastic and ground-breaking piece of work. (Review by Samantha Daly)

Identity, race and gender politics were some of the issues explored at last night's JOMBA! Women's Solo Project. The first festival of its kind for JOMBA!, the Women's Solo Project saw four of the top female choreographers, both local and international, presenting some interesting work for Durban audiences.

In the first performance of the evening, France's Hélène Cathala presented La jeune fille que la rivière n'a pas gardée (The young woman the river didn't keep). This was a novel performance - a first of its kind - where images and sounds were entwined to produce a dynamic and intriguing performance. “The performance space, shaped by infrared sensors, emerges little by little as the matrix of the dance itself. The dancer's movements are here a portrait in motion,” writes Cathala of her piece.

A Brechtian approach to performance, the lighting and sound equipment was all placed on stage in full view of the audience and used by the performer in the creation of the work. The vocabulary was also unusual; normal movements were performed, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, moving from the floor to the ceiling; the dancer, Nina Santes (looking rather inconspicuous, as though she were about to run a race in her understated white jeans, green shirt, orange jacket and purple takkies) moved easily around the stage. The performance is one of a kind, allowing audiences a glimpse into some of the work being produced in France at the moment.

Renowned Durban choreographer and JOMBA! Artistic Director, Lliane Loots, teamed up with Teekay Quvane to present Skin, a profound look at the politics behind women's clothing and skin. With a projection screen to the left of the stage, and three chairs, lit only by light bulbs hanging overhead, we watched as Quvane distorted and contorted her body, moving spasmodically, struggling, sometimes even reaching out to the audience, crying, almost begging for help. The piece contained very powerful imagery.

Quvane performs topless, reminiscent of the traditional Swazi dancers who we see projected onto the screen on-stage. She shifts then to a suit, and explores the politics which surround the suit - predominantly seen as male clothing, but worn on a female body. Even when her skin is covered by the suit, Quvane still struggles and we get the sense that something is not right. She even looks for approval from the audience, walking towards them and gesturing with her arms as if to say “Is this what you want? What do you think?”

When watching Skin, one can't ignore the local stigma and misconceptions surrounding women's clothing which litter the pages of our daily newspapers – a woman is victimised for wearing clothing that is too revealing, leading some to shockingly claim she is asking to be raped or sexually abused, a woman wearing trousers is also victimised for challenging male chauvinism by wearing traditionally 'male' clothing. With issues like these still fresh in our minds, and with women fighting for the freedom to express themselves as they will, Skin takes on a whole new meaning. Its importance as a piece of feminist choreography in fighting for equality and freedom is undeniable, and instils within the work a profound appreciation and respect.

The final image we are left with is Quvane, jumping on the side of the stage, watching an image of an animal being skinned. The connotations are endless. Is this to suggest that women are perceived as animals in society? What is the significance of skin? What are the connotations of being skinned; having no skin - being bare?

The performance was well executed, with some fantastic vocabulary. The spasmodic, contortionistic movements, combined with some beautiful, outstretched and quick movements, made for a truly interesting and dynamic viewing. An excellent choice of lighting, sound and music accompanied by videographic imagery attributed to the success of Skin, which remains one of the most impressive and socio-politically charged works which Loots has created.

Durban's Desiree Davids also presented the second instalment of her piece Who is this?...Beneath my Skin. Continuing from last year in her exploration of her identity, peeling back the layers of the complex notion of identity (will we ever really get to the core of identity as it is a multi-faceted?), Davids presented an extended video work. Davids uses some powerful imagery, including one of her resembling Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man.

Some revelational spoken word reiterates Davids' intentions and delvings into identity: “If black is good and wrong is white then I am black and I am white. I am of mixed race; Black and White. I do not know how much of each. All I know is that I am me and that is what I would like you to see. When you look at me, yes...look at my Appearance, see my History, see my Country, my Race, ask about my Culture, my religious beliefs and Marital status, even ask why I do not have children at this age, but do not judge and package me by these, for these are but a fraction of what makes me ME.”

There is a strong focus on feet in the film and standing on edge (literally as she stands on the edge of a wall, balancing before jumping off, and figuratively) which is significant since it is the feet, and walking, which lead her on her journey to self discovery. Davids, in line with peeling away the layers of her identity, makes innovative use of layering in the performance. At one point we watch a video of her dancing. In the video, she is being filmed, and there is a film playing in the video. So we are watching a film of her dancing and being filmed. The implications are incredible, and makes for some interesting work.

Who Is this?...Beneath My Skin – Layer 2 It is a very profound and personal work, which at times may be difficult, especially doing it on such a public platform. The honesty, authenticity and sincerity with which Davids presents herself and addresses the work is both humbling and impressive.

The fourth performance last night came from Johannesburg choreographer and dancer, Dada Masilo, The Bitter End of Rosemary. A piece performed in the nude, Masilo embodies and explores literature's tragic heroines, particularly Shakespeare's Ophelia, from Hamlet. Masilo said, “It is a work about women's madness as much as it is about the body used to express itself when this madness in the mind takes over. The body is both anchored and airborne, both struggles and pleads, and then surrenders – blood always flows in the bitter end.”

This was a stunning performance, with the fast, sometimes maniacal movements creating a magnificent blur of naked flesh under the UV lights. The madness which Masilo talks about is perfectly captured, from hysterical laughing blasting through the speakers, to the performer shouting at 'the voices' to shut up and repeatedly reassuring herself “I am not crazy!” while simultaneously hitting herself and grabbing her head in anguish. The movements are violent and angry, yet precise.

The lasting image of Masilo calmly bathing herself in flowers and water, after the hysterics of the performance, creates an interesting opposition to the madness and chaos of the earlier performance, and leaves a lasting impression upon the audience. Masilo's The Bitter end of Rosemary is truly a fantastic and ground-breaking piece of work.