NAF 2015: Cinephiles Unite For Film Programme

A scene from Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales
A scene from Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales

This feature was first published in Cape Times on 2 July 2015.

Steyn du Toit

While the current National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown is best known for its celebration of the multi-coloured umbrella that is the performing arts, the (relatively) warmer first few days have also delivered a film programme able to compete with the best. Curated by Trevor Steele Taylor, several interesting figures and themes have been identified.

Regarded as a major figure in Italian poetry, filmmaking and art, the cinematic achievements of Pier Paolo Pasolini is paid tribute to over the course of the week. Among his most celebrated films screened include The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), The Decameron (1970), The Canterbury Tales (1972) and Arabian Nights (1974).

It is Pasolini’s controversial 1975 feature, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, however, that most often pops up when referring to the controversial nature of the director’s work. Based on the Marquis de Sade’s infamous 1785 novel, 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinism, the film unflinchingly deals with (and depicts) matters of torture, humiliation, degradation, rape, murder and every other depraved topic in between.

Running alongside the Pasolini retrospective is a digital exhibition of Manfred Zylla’s 120 Days of Sodom, a series inspired by the film, as well as the writings of De Sade and Dante Alighieri. The exhibition was launched here in book format on Friday as well, thanks to a collaboration between Zylla and the Erdmann Contemporary in Cape Town.

German-born and South African-based Zylla himself is in attendance too, and will appear as part of a Think!Fest panel discussion on Tuesday (July 7). Titled Art and Resistance, during the conversation the artist and a group of his peers will examine the position of art as “a method of resistance to coercion by structures of state, religious, financial, censorial and corporate power.”

Another festival retrospective to go see should you find yourself in Grahamstown this week, and one that ties in with similar efforts on the Main theatre programme, relates to the satirical films of Pieter-Dirk Uys.

While tannie Evita Bezuidenhout will no doubt forever be his most memorable creation, the titles in this selection provide a great opportunity to experience his various other sides as an actor and comedian too. Among the films directed and/or starring The Divine Mrs. E’s alter-ego are Adapt or Dye (1982), Farce About Uys (183) as well as Skating on Thin Uys (1985).

Billed as an important freedom of speech initiative, Limits of Liberty is a resurrection of Liza Key’s former Weekly Mail & Guardian Film Festival offering. Now a component of this year’s NAF film programme, the segment sees several important films presented around issues relating to censorship and the freedom of the individual in today’s increasingly Orwellian world.

CitizenFour
CitizenFour

Winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Laura Poitras’ CitizenFour truly feels like a document of its time. Shot cinéma vérité style and presented as a series of frank, confessional interviews with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong in 2003 (only days before the National Security Agency spying scandal broke), this is what it feels like to watch history unfold in “real time.”

It’s great to see two South African films also screened as part of Limits of Liberty. Directed by Heinrich Dahms, Between the Devil and the Deep opens with an impressive scene of a lone diver seemingly taking on an entire ocean. A fitting metaphor for what is to follow, this gripping documentary follows several families from Hawston, a fishing community near Hermanus. Fracking, in turn, comes under the spotlight in Jolynn Minnaar’s Unearthed.

Between the devil and the deep

As usual Taylor, who celebrates his 17th year as curator, has grouped various other films together under interesting banner themes for the rest of the programme as well. The South, for instance, sees “a meeting between South American film artists and South Africa.”

Supported by various embassies, filmmaker Alvaro Brechner – whose films Mr. Kaplan and A Bad Day to Go Fishing were selected as Uruguay’s official submissions to the Academy Awards’ Foreign Language Film category in 2010 and 2015, respectively – are currently in attendance.

Brechner will be joined today (July 6) by his Argentinian counterpart, Pablo Cesar – known for films such as The Gods of the Water, Hunabku and The Sacred Family – for a meeting with last year’s Standard Bank Young Artist (SBYA) for Film, Jahmil XT Qubeka (Of Good Report). Together they will look at areas for collaboration between their various countries.

Another interesting theme chosen by Taylor this year sees classic films presented with new/alternative soundtracks and scores. Examples include FW Murnau’s silent classic, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, performed to a soundscape created by Jacob Israel and A Skyline on Fire; and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 black and white Vampyr, accompanied by an original live music composition by husband and wife team Jacob van der Westhuizen and Ola Kobak (appearing together as A Hollow in the Land), alongside Givan Lötz.

047-sunrise-theredlist

While previous years have had bigger offerings in terms of films on the NAF Fringe, this year sees only two items make the cut. The first, Double Bill I, comprises of Stephen Abbott’s 10-minute short Lazy Susan, Kyle Robinson’s Finding Graham’s Town (16 min) as well as the Robinson brothers’ Man on the Line, featuring well-known physical theatre performer Richard Antrobus.

Two longer short films by Siviwe Honobroke Mashiyi’s make up Double Bill II. They are Forgiveness, produced and shot without a budget, and Did She, Didn’t She?, the second film written and directed by this upcoming filmmaker.

The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) will once again present a series of workshops during NAF too. Among the free screenings presented as part of it include Zee Ntuli’s Hard to Get (Wednesday), Koos Roets’ Faan se Trein (Friday) and Rehad Desai’s Miners Shot Down (Friday).

l NAF runs until Sunday. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

Advertisements
NAF 2015: Cinephiles Unite For Film Programme

NAF 2015: TEN FRINGE PRODUCTIONS NOT TO MISS

 Andrew Buckland in Tobacco, or the Harmfull Effects Thereof (Pic by Marius Janse van Rensburg)

Andrew Buckland in Tobacco, or the Harmfull Effects Thereof (Pic by Marius Janse van Rensburg)

This feature was first published in Cape Times on 2 July 2015.

Steyn du Toit

Any thespian will tell you that it is often the Fringe component of any given arts festival that also offers its most unexpected viewing delights. But with a free-for-all format when it comes to The National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown’s Fringe programme, it can be difficult picking the most bang for your buck.

Here are 10 picks, consisting of both past festival favourites and debuts, well worth sampling this year:

BLUE (Dance)

Celebrating their 20th year in Grahamstown, no trip to NAF is complete without seeing a production by the Cape Dance Company (CDC). Under the artistic direction of Debbie Turner and consisting of four pieces by three leading choreographers, Blue is recommended for both fans of the company’s signature neoclassical style, as well as for those interested in exploring contemporary dance trends. As a companion piece also don’t miss Jilted, performed by the Cape Academy of Performing Arts (a feeder training company for the CDC), and featuring dance, drama and song.

DETRITUS FOR ONE (Physical theatre)

Dancer and lecturer Alan Parker has been interested in the notion of the archive for a while now, with each new production or academic paper he puts out on the topic taking him deeper into the way we record and document theatre and live performance. In 2013’s Detritus I watched a group of dancers, under his direction, emphatically reenact a series of pieces that they had seen the previous year at NAF. This time around Parker will browse through his own mental archive, and the results should be very interesting to see.

KAFKA AND SON (Drama)

While Franz Kafka and existentialism are often referred to in the same sentence, it is the author’s knack for the surreal that I find myself more often drawn to. Adapted from Kafka’s Letter to His Father by Mark Cassidy (director) and Alon Nashman (actor), this was one of the most memorable productions of NAF for me last year. Nashman, who plays Kafka, delivers a deeply felt yet intellectual performance against a strong visual backdrop of long shadows, cages and black feathers.

PIET SE OPTELGOED (Physical theatre)

Liezl de Kock in Piet se Optelgoed (Pic by Jesse Kramer)
Liezl de Kock in Piet se Optelgoed (Pic by Jesse Kramer)

Living in, and on top of some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland, the macabre antiheroine in Liezl de Kock’s Piet se Optelgoed has a very dark tale to tell. Rooted in mime and physical theatre, this visceral tale of adaptation, trauma and, ultimately, survival, was hands down the best production I saw during last year’s Cape Town Fringe Festival. De Kock (Crazy in Love) not only delivers an overwhelming performance, but the production’s final metaphorical scene has returned to haunt me often since first experiencing it.

RETURN OF THE ANCESTORS (Drama)

2014 was the year that the spirits of struggle icons Steve Biko and Neil Aggett first travelled from the afterlife in order to come see what the South Africa that they fought for looks like today. What they found back here, however, seemed to go against the very grain of what the ANC originally stood for. Poverty, corruption, greed, violence, xenophobia, distrust, consumerism and nepotism; the current situation literally saw them turn in their graves. Written by Mike van Graan and starring promising young actors Siya Sikawuti and Mandisi Sindo, their funny and sobering journey to the foot of Nkandla continues.

TOBACCO, AND THE HARMFUL EFFECTS THEREOF (Drama)

Seriously, what more reason do you need than Andrew Buckland and Sylvaine teaming up together for a play? Described as “an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s monologue, On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco, re-imagined, in cut-up technique, in collaboration with Franz Kafka, Edward Lear and Andre Breton, amongst others”, it is both an exercise in linguistics as well as in the poetry and movement of the human body. Don’t miss this opportunity to see why these two theatre makers are simply in a league of their own.

Wessel Pretorius in Undone (Pic by Louisa Feiter)
Wessel Pretorius in Undone (Pic by Louisa Feiter)

UNDONE (Drama)

You’ll struggle to find anyone who has seen it who isn’t raving about Wessel Pretorius’ Undone, and with good reason. Kicking off with a splendid rendition of CJ Langenhoven’s Liefdesonsin: ‘n wiegeliedjie, in this play his unnamed protagonist takes the viewer on a visually evocative mythological pilgrimage through transformation from boy to man. Religion, sexuality, self-discovery, theatre and poetry; it’s all part of this alluring production.

UNMUTE (Dance)

Choreographed by, and starring Andile Vellem alongside Nadine Mckenzie, Themba Mbuli and Zama Sonjica, UnMute is a physical piece in which disabled performers aim to overcome the limits of their own bodies. Simultaneously they also go about circumnavigating society’s perceptions of how they should be treated because of their condition. It’s a beautiful, athletic, fearless and captivating production where Vellem and his team physically achieve the impossible. It leaves the viewer to reflect on how patronising we often are as a society towards those with disabilities, instead of rather finding ways to supplement that which they are already more than capable of doing themselves.

VASLAV (Drama)

Presented in the form of a fragmented narrative, Vaslav revolves around Russian ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky’s 30-year battle with paranoid schizophrenia. Starring Godfrey Johnson as the artist often referred to as “The God of the Dance,” the script – by Johnson, Lara Bye and Karen Jeynes – was compiled from Nijinsky’s own diaries and journal entries. Against a backdrop of archive video footage, movement coordination by Fiona Du Plooy as well as period music played by Johnson on piano, what emerges is a portrait of a vastly gifted individual who continues to have an impact on our world nearly 100 years after he danced for the last time.

WE DIDN’T COME TO HELL FOR THE CROISSANTS (Poetry)

Subtitled Seven Deadly New Stories for Consenting Adults, there really isn’t anything you need to know about this production other than it’s made by the same people behind The Epicene Butcher and last year’s Amateur Hour! This time around Jemma Kahn has roped in some theatrical collaborators – including Louis Viljoen (The Pervert Laura), Nicholas Spagnoletti (London Road) and Tertius Kapp (Rooiland) – so the literary festivities should be all the merrier.

l NAF takes place from July 2 – July 12. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

NAF 2015: TEN FRINGE PRODUCTIONS NOT TO MISS

NAF 2015: UNDERGROUND DANCE THEATRE’S LOVEZERO

Cilna Katzke in Mode (Pic by Oscar O'Ryan)
Cilna Katzke in Mode (Pic by Oscar O’Ryan)

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 1 July 2015.

Steyn du Toit

After months of strenuous rehearsals Cape Town’s Underground Dance Theatre is finally packed-up and ready to embark on their annual trip to the Eastern Cape. Split between three vehicles – containing 10 dancers, their costumes and props – are two dance pieces the company is presenting at this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown.

Titled LoveZero the programme is made up of Steven van Wyk and Thalia Laric’s Mode, which first premiered as the Baxter Dance Festival’s commissioned piece last year; and Cypher, a brand new piece featuring dancers Julia de Rosenwerth, Odille de Villiers and Nicola van Straaten.

Cipher is a numbers game,” explains Cilna Katzke, who choreographed the piece along with Kristina Johnstone. “Numbers seem rational, logical and impersonal, yet we seem to be deeply attuned to how numbers ‘feel’. There are favourite numbers, lucky numbers, mystical numbers…the list goes on.

Cipher explores the human inclination to ascribe emotion to that which seems obscenely rational. The dance navigates the tension between order and disorder, harmony and anarchy, the logical and the absurd.”

Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)
Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)

Referring to the inspiration behind the production, Katzke explains that, during her time as a student at UCT, she had to do a project generally referred to as the “In-the-style-of project”. As part of it she had to choose a choreographer whose work she found interesting, before presenting her own piece in a similar style.

“The piece I chose was Shutters Shut, originally choreographed by Nederlands Dans Theater’s (NDT) artistic director Paul Lightfoot and artistic advisor Sol León. In it they used a repetitive Gertrude Stein poem (“If I Had Told Him a Completed Portrait of Picasso”) as the soundtrack, with each word having a specific movement or gesture to go with it.

“While I chose a different Stein poem (“Matisse”), I still had to work with the external formula/structure (choreography) that the piece required. A certain amount of artistic decisions where therefore taken away from me. It is an aesthetic that I liked so much that, several years after graduating, I wanted to revisit its mechanics when it came to Cipher.

What she enjoys most about this process, Katzke explains, is that she does not have to stop all the time and “worry whether or not a choreographic decision I am busy making is right or wrong.” Instead, she continues, all she has to do is “lose myself in the process of creating.”

Wanting to create a piece using a similar pre-defined structure, combined with listening to a podcast on numbers by chance at the same time, led to the idea of approaching Cypher’s creation as a kind of game of numbers.

Nicola van Straaten, Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)
Nicola van Straaten, Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)

“Initially Kristina and I spoke a lot about our favourite numbers; why they meant, important dates and birthdays in our lives, family dynamics, how many people in each family, how many children, and so on.

“From that we assigned words to each number from one to nine and, bringing in a games element, we then used a Sudoku puzzle to fill in the words/numbers that we’ve selected. This ‘game’ led to the birth of the dance moves associated with each word.”

Arranged by Heno Janse van Rensburg, the production’s choreography plays out to songs such as Max Richter’s “A Sudden Manhattan Of The Mind” and “When The Northern Lights/Jasper And Louise”, The Andrews Sisters’ “Rum and Coca Cola” as well as Meredith Monk’s “Masks.”

“When you have an abstract movement and you add a piece of music to it, suddenly that movement becomes imbued with emotion. The music we chose capture the mood and intentions of the piece, and were an integral part in helping us create our movements.

“Because each song is also from a different style and/or era, it constantly shifts the emotion on stage. The audience therefore will find themselves responding accordingly with each new track.”

Simple, understated cues will be used when lighting the dancers on stage from above, combined with brights from the side to make them appear more sculptural.

“They’ll be wearing long dresses that come to about mid-calf. Being this covered adds a different sphere, a kind of old-world feel to the piece. They look like women from a Jane Austen novel. It’s an interesting contrast, having movements that are quite athletic and relentless seen executed through the shape and weight of the material.”

Since debuting at the Baxter last year, Katzke goes on to say, Mode has undergone several tweaks in preparation for the festival. Directly following NAF, both productions will also travel to the Free State Arts Festival in Bloemfontein (July 13 – 18).

Henk Opperman en Ciara Barron in Mode (Pic by Oscar O'Ryan)
Henk Opperman en Ciara Barron in Mode (Pic by Oscar O’Ryan)

“The biggest change to Mode was that they’ve incorporated more dancers. There are now six – Julia de Rosenwerth, Odille de Villiers, Kopano Maroga, Henk Opperman, Natasha Rhoda en Sherwin Rhode – alongside opera singer Robin Botha.

“The costumes have changed slightly as well. They’re still wearing kilt-like skirts, however, the cast’s not wearing those turtleneck jerseys anymore. Instead they now wear vests, but also in different colours.

“Because Mode is a dance about dancing, Steve and Thalia have this time around approached the ending in a bit of a tongue and cheek way. Bringing in more types of dances to end things off on a slightly different way than before, they’re also commenting on the way we as a society end our dances.”

l NAF takes place from July 2 – July 12. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

NAF 2015: UNDERGROUND DANCE THEATRE’S LOVEZERO

NAF 2015: Manfred Zylla’s 120 Days of Sodom book launch

The Lovers
The Lovers

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 25 June 2015.

Anyone familiar with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom will tell you that there’s no going back from watching its contents.

Similarly, reading through Dante’s Divine Comedy, or experiencing the depraved writings of literary scoundrel Marquis de Sade, are feats not advised on a full stomach.

Inspired by the above-mentioned references, German artist Manfred Zylla’s 120 Days of Sodom is a series of images born out of the painter’s lifelong kinship with the work produced by their creators.

Produced by Zylla alongside the Erdmann Contemporary in Cape Town, a new 177-page book featuring the entire collection will be launched at this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown.

Featuring a lead essay written by writer, filmmaker and NAF film programme curator Trevor Steele Taylor, among the book’s more than 30 other contributors are Ivor Powell, James Matthews, Niklas Zimmer, Aryan Kaganof as well as Artscape’s Marlene le Roux.

“We asked Trevor to write a leading essay which contextualises the series in terms of its influences,” says Heidi Erdmann.

“Titled A Saint in the city of Pandemonium: Pier Paolo Pasolini, a revolutionary thinker in a time of consumption, through the piece Taylor explores the contemporaneity of the three main influences behind Zylla’s work.”

A scene from the film, Salo
A scene from the film, Salo

When it came to approaching the rest of the book’s contributors, Erdmann recalls, both she and Zylla were set on having non-art industry voices.

“We preferred drawing on the thread of cinema for the text, and mother tongue submissions were also preferred. Finally it was necessary for the text to equal the transgressive nature of the series; which I think we have achieved.”

Referring to Zylla as “an extraordinary artist”, Taylor, who has known him for nearly forty years, describes his work as confronting inequality and hypocrisy on a cultural and political level.

“He does so, however, in a manner that is both humble and unswervingly direct,” Taylor observes.

Trevor Steele Taylor (Pic by Suzy Bernstein)
Trevor Steele Taylor (Pic by Suzy Bernstein)

“The first Zylla exhibition I remember seeing was a series of distorted images of young white conscripts. This was during the mid-70s, and the purpose of the exhibition was confrontational. He succeeded on that level causing a good deal of official reaction.

“The visceral nature of the images resonated with the mood of the time and the complexity and artistic skill of the pieces were unforgettable. He further confronted the system by living openly with his coloured wife and children in the midst of apartheid society.”

Describing 120 Days of Sodom as “an incomplete, but mind-bending, meditation on power”, Taylor goes on to say that the Marquis de Sade is often misrepresented as a pornographer.

“There is nothing pornographic is his work. His meditations – in which the human body is abused in pursuit of power, not sexuality – is a nexus between power and its attempts at control.

“Ultimately power can, to quote Adrian Mitchell, take the human body and twist it all about. One’s soul, however, is out of bounds to wielders of power.”

In presenting his vision of the Marquis de Sade’s seminal work, Taylor goes on to explain, Zylla comes to Sade through a relationship with the lens of Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini.

“Pasolini is probably the most directly political of filmmakers. That said, he is also the most spiritual; a Marxist with deep understanding of the message and the journey of Christ, and a homosexual who glorified the natural energy and innocence of sexuality in its widest meaning.”

Taylor considers Pasolini’s final film, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, to be “cinema on the very edge of the abyss.”

“Sade’s book concerns a group of libertines (representing power in the form of religion, politics, finances and and governance) who, through their wealth, manages to kidnap a group of the children of the rich to fulfil, through a series of ritualistic orgies, their depraved desires.

The sinners on the rack of punishment.
The sinners on the rack of punishment.

“Pasolini reset the events in fascist Italy in the last months of the war, with the same pantheon of power brokers now gorging their cruelty and lust for power on the kidnapped children of the proletariat.

“Zylla’s series of paintings vary between direct representations of frames from Pasolini’s film as well as side references to modern consumerism, nuclear immolation, the rape of Gaia (fracking) and militarism (the military-industrial complex).”

While not individually titled, among the collection’s images resonating strongest with Taylor are a group of MBA-clutching, Wolf of Wall Street-impersonating sinners on “the rack of punishment”; an image of two lovers naked and alone in “the Hall of Power”; a pair of skeletons dancing above a nuclear power plant like “the horseman of the apocalypse”, as well as an image he refers to as “sodomy, X-ray skeletons and the power of Red Bull.”

Along with the book’s launch all images from 120 Days of Sodom will be exhibited digitally during NAF, together with a new series of paintings by Zylla in which Pasolini can be seen at work. Several of the director’s films – including Salò, The Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights – will be screened as part of the festival’s film programme as well.

“In addition, Zylla will be in attendance and will take part in discussion called Art and Resistance. In it the panel will look at a myriad of issues that were intrinsic to Zylla, Sade, Pasolini, Dante, Milton and perhaps even St Paul and Christ.”

l NAF takes place from July 2 – July 12. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

NAF 2015: Manfred Zylla’s 120 Days of Sodom book launch

INTERVIEW: THALIA LARIC ON ASKOOP

From left, Henk Opperman, Zama Sonjica, Bianca de Klerk, Bronwyn Reddy and Grace Babalwa Nosilela (Pic by Betalife Productions).
From left, Henk Opperman, Zama Sonjica, Bianca de Klerk, Bronwyn Reddy and Grace Babalwa Nosilela (Pic by Betalife Productions).

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 8 April 2015.

“Let’s start with the honourable arsehole,” Thalia Laric tells a group of performers sitting in a circle as I enter the theatre. Thankfully, as it turns out, she’s not referring to the journalist that just walked into their rehearsals.

Humming Koos du Plessis’ Kinders van die Wind, the group immediately gets up and launches into a hilarious scene in which the various organs of the human body argue over which one of them is most important.

Performed as part of Underground Dance Theatre’s brand new “dance cabaret,” to learn which organ (excuse the pun) clenches the victory you’ll have to go see Askoop when it opens at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) in Oudtshoorn (April 7 – 11).

Askoop is a cross-genre piece that reveals the iconic shopping trolley as more than just a wheeled metal structure,” Laric, who co-directs and -choreographs with Cilna Katzke, tells me during a break in rehearsals.

“Through the use of satirical humour and pathos it questions ideals of fulfillment and the limits of our greed. What does it mean to be rich, and to be poor, in today’s consumer culture?”

From left, Henk Opperman, Zama Sonjica and Grace Babalwa Nosilela (Pic by Betalife Productions).
From left, Henk Opperman, Zama Sonjica and Grace Babalwa Nosilela (Pic by Betalife Productions).

The inspiration for the production comes from a work she and Katzke made while studying together at UCT’s School of Dance.

“It was called Trouble With My Friend Again, and looked at the sacrifices we make in order to have one thing, only to have to give up something else in the process.

“How does the desire for material things affect our relationships? Is material fulfillment ever enough to satisfy emotional emptiness?”

Entertaining and provocative, Steve van Wyk and Joy Millar’s script for Askoop draws together dance, song and physical theatre in order to look at “how we see ourselves in relation to what we have and what we are able to attain.”

Made up of Bronwyn Reddy, Bianca de Klerk, Henk Opperman, Grace Babalwa Nosilela and Zama Sonjica, the eclectic cast represents a diverse mix of physical abilities and social backgrounds.

“Through their individual stories various they cast light on consumerism and greed in contemporary South Africa.

“Zama, for instance, is a wheelchair performer, who brings a distinguished sense of maturity as well as an incredible presence nuanced by real life experience to the stage.”

A large amount of the choreography sees the incorporation of actual shopping trolleys as well as the depiction of its relationship with individuals from various walks of life.

“We draw on various genres such as physical theatre, Broadway and contemporary dance. The trolley finds its particular identity, however, through the performers and how their individual characters embody their journey through the piece.

“[A trolley] fills. It empties. It waits to become. A carthorse for the middle-class, a sturdy companion for the barefoot beggar.”

Simultaneously, Askoop also sees the trolley used in unfamiliar ways – including being used as a pram, a chariot, a recliner and even a container for people and ideas – in an attempt to challenge the viewer’s existing perception of it.

“The most dancey section of the work is a duet between Zama and Henk. It makes for a very powerful moment due to their respective talents as professional contemporary dancers.”

Referring to the production’s title, Laric explains “askoop” is a made-up word, which, directly translated, means “ash purchase.” A bit of wordplay on the Afrikaans term ashoop (rubbish dump), it means to purchase something that is made of ash (i.e. something that will eventually disintegrate).

“Why do we have such a desire to acquire material things that ultimately are not able not fulfill us? As Cilna once summed it up during rehearsals: ‘Ek kan nie ‘n venter waentjie hemel toe vat nie‘ (I can’t take a trailer to heaven with me).”

Under the musical direction of De Klerk several well-known songs were arranged specifically, including Whatever Lola WantsWives and Lovers and Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.

Zama Sonjica, front, Grace Babalwa Nosilela and Henk Opperman, inside trolley, and Bronwyn Reddy and Bianca de Klerk, back (Pic by Betalife Productions).
Zama Sonjica, front, Grace Babalwa Nosilela and Henk Opperman, inside trolley, and Bronwyn Reddy and Bianca de Klerk, back (Pic by Betalife Productions).

Apart from Kinders van die Wind, among the other South African favourites popping up are Laurika Rauch’s Kyk Hoe Glinster die Maan as well as Jeremy Taylor’s Ag Pleez Daddy.

“You will also notice that English and Xhosa verses have been added to Kinders van die Wind.”

Askoop is made possible in through funding from the Waterfront Theatre Company as well as a successful Thundafund campaign run by Underground Dance Theatre.

“We are so grateful to the people who came forward to contribute to the development of this new work. In total we raised just over R24 000. It’s been wonderful to get to know our supporters through crowd funding.”

l For Askoop’s performance schedule, or to book tickets, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or see www.computicket.com.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

INTERVIEW: THALIA LARIC ON ASKOOP

INTERVIEW: NICOLA ELLIOTT on CHALK

Adriana Jamisse and Julia de Rosenwerth in Chalk (Pic: Nicola Elliott).
Adriana Jamisse and Julia de Rosenwerth in Chalk (Pic: Nicola Elliott).

This interview was first published in Sunday Independent on 8 March 2015.

Choreographer Nicola Elliott debuts a brand new work at Cape Town’s Infecting the City festival this week. Steyn du Toit talks to the former Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance about parkour, cityscapes and drawing lines with chalk.

“I’ve always been inspired by bodies that treat the cityscape as a playground for expression,” Elliott tells me at the start of our interview.

“They aren’t confined by rules, yet they aren’t destructive either. Just look at how parkour allows its practitioners to use the cityscape as a springboard for their own assertion of freedom.”

Elliott’s latest performance piece involves performers Richard Antrobus, Julia de Rosenwerth, Adriana Jamisse and Kopano Maroga engaging in a “dance game” within the unstable demarcations of a shifting and busy pedestrian intersection on Cape Town’s Parliament Street.

Performances are scheduled for Friday, March 13 at 12:30 and Saturday, March 14 at 10:30.

Nicola Elliott (Pic: Timmy Henny).
Nicola Elliott (Pic: Timmy Henny).

“Aiming to explore the power and play of demarcation, Chalk sees the disruption of the status quo through opposing the normative mode of physicality within a particular environment.”

Referring to the psychogeographical concept of the dérive as one of her inspirations, she continues that the practice envisions bodies in the cityscape that are not defined by product or purpose.

“Rather, they drift or wander through the city often into places or across boundaries in direct opposition to how the city aims to process its bodies.

Chalk is about the human shape within Cape Town’s cityscape. Its beautiful buildings seem rather inorganic, and even permanent, in comparison to our very fleeting human shapes.”

By drawing chalk lines in a similar way to how it is used to demarcate a space for bodies to play during sports, Elliott has also framed her performers’ game within its public setting. It now becomes a playground on which their bodies can be “non-product orientated”.

“Of course, theoretically, one doesn’t need a cordoned off space to be allowed physical expressive freedom in the city. Or do you?”

Adriana Jamisse and Julia de Rosenwerth (Pic: Nicola Elliott).
Adriana Jamisse and Julia de Rosenwerth (Pic: Nicola Elliott).

During their performance, the dancers are required to use the chalk to record “where” they’ve been and “how” they’ve been as well.

“Sometimes it’s a very calming and harmonious process to watch, and then there are moments during which they proceed to break out of the order in search of some well-deserved chaos.

“During rehearsals the cast and I worked with a lot of task-driven improvisation when creating the ‘language’ and experiences of the piece. The first step was to define what it was that the work wanted to say or do.

“After learning the ‘language’, we then set out finding a way of ‘talking’ with the space that we’ll be performing in. While the language itself has its moments of being physically demanding and virtuosic, what’s more important is that the dancers need to be highly sensitive to their environment, as well as to how their bodies respond to it”.

When coming to see Chalk, Elliott hopes that viewers will leave feeling more sensitive to their own physicality within the busy environment of the Mother City.

“I hope that they will notice their own body more, and perhaps even allow it a few more deep breaths, or to take the time to wander around the city a bit.

“I conceive of it introducing a broader spectrum of human body shape into the performance of the city. It’s to make us self aware and more sentient.”

To book tickets for Chalk, or to see the full Infecting the City programme and schedule, on until March 14 , see www.infectingthecity.com and  www.facebook.com/InfectingTheCityFestival, or follow @InfectingtheCT on Twitter.

INTERVIEW: NICOLA ELLIOTT on CHALK