Published: Saturday, 29 October 2011 14:13
They Look at Me and That’s All They Think/Hatched
Dance Umbrella: Nelisiwe Xaba/Mamela Nyamza
* * *
Tonight, The Place bought us another installment courtesy of Dance Umbrella in the form of two one-woman shows. The double bill consisted of Nelisiwe Xaba’s They Look at Me and That’s All They Think plus Mamela Nyamza’s Hatched, both performed by their choreographers. New and inspiring choreographic notions filled the Robin Howard Theatre, however, this wasn’t delivered without its downfalls.
I can only wish to write a trail of splendid praise for the first piece of the night, but frustratingly my thoughts were left rather deflated. This is in actual fact a bit of a nuisance as bundles of innovative ideas were placed neatly before the audience, but they remained unfinished while I could only dream of their potential. The first image was a curious one as Nelisiwe Xaba explored a flow of movement throughout the depths of her back and arms, crouched beside a step ladder refusing to reveal her face. Once we were introduced with the impact of her pre-hidden face, the night’s activities disappointedly progressed in a half-hearted fashion. The white, wired dress was certainly put to good use providing a ‘top half’ tent staging a playful yet lazy, brightly coloured leg routine, a screen which broadcasted self resembling, cartoon hair adverts, and a swinging light made for an effective three dimensional silhouette. Bouncy castles and accentuated ‘features’ were among the other uses the dress exhibited, alongside our choreographer wrapping herself in bubble wrap executing uncomfortable, random noises which were actually an interesting highlight of the piece.
The frustrating truth is that these wonderfully creative concepts failed to connect or develop in the slightest. A horribly slack use of lighting failed to assist in any way, and an imaginative choice of accompaniment including a comical rendition of The Pussycat Doll’s Don’t Cha, was unfortunately stuck on track after track in a CD player-like fashion. An overuse of fiddling and adjusting of costume and set in between things diminished the piece of any sort of flow and interest. The piece ‘refers to the story of Sara Baartman’ and how she is ‘considered as a symbol of the oppression of the African woman by colonialism and its zoo-like way of looking at Africans’ (see programme notes), which is notable amongst these chopped up interpretations, but a strong barrier is endured between choreographer and audience due to an uninviting self exploration.
Slightly concerned that the second piece Hatched was to follow in the first’s footsteps due to the similar lighting state and dropping of a washing line peg or two, I was quite relieved to find myself pleasantly surprised. As the lights gradually rose, a tasteful structure appears by means of a washing line hung right across the back of the space, a sea of red in the form of a tent encompassing a human, lamp and table, and a stunning figure, half-naked bearing a long skirt brambled in pegs. Faintly, traffic and sirens fill the air as the figure places a metal bucket upon her head, moving along the line in pointe shoes, all the while with her back turned. Rushing, yet humming, red clothes from the bucket are hung, dressing her top half somewhere along the line. The tent is also attached which leads to an exquisitely intense moment in which the figure slowly wraps herself in the mounds of material, unveiling a young boy doing his homework while classical music attentively attends to the scene. A beautiful array of red fabric has textured the stage and it is as though every image has been carefully selected.
The movement content proves to be an exciting watch as she switches from happy to sad, emotions pouring out of the frantic inner twitching that wobbles speedily through her body. At moments, her body as a whole is so beautifully quick that she is almost out of control yet so in control at the same time. Pegs collide as she jumps up and down in utter glee to then flop back into her depressive state, and the twitching progressively grows happier. In the way of trying on clothes and begging for a cigarette, repeatedly lighting a match, she is fighting with her emotions as the boy watches her quite unfazed. The only course of action carried out by the boy is the cleaning up of pegs, which really is all that is required to convey their touching relationship. Pointe shoes are off, an increase of clothing covers her as she twitches in a far more elated mode to native music, taking what seems to be her son by the hand to proceed with the bows: an unexpected yet attractive finish as the music continues.
Artistically stunning, Hatched has earned the third star of the night. While both pieces deal with social issues in an inventive way, They Look at Me and That’s All They Think struggled to communicate; there is some unfinished business here that was sadly not dealt with.