A throng of people hovered expectantly under the giant skeleton of a blue whale at the Iziko South African Museum. Artsy folk, exceptionally well-put-together men, youngsters, foreigners and a sprinkling of hippies waited in anticipation for the opening performance by the Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative, Back.
The stage transformed from red to blue to pinky-yellow as a quartet of dancers weaved through a variety of emotions experienced in a relationship. Contact and space tied the piece together as Nosiphiwo Samente, Irven Teme, Charlie van Rooyen and Thami Majela shifted and reacted to each other’s touch. The piece transitioned from a soulful pas de deux to playful, intricate quartets in which the dancers manipulated the walls, the floor and each other. Samente, the only woman in PJ Sabbagha’s piece, was entrancing in her pained solo, complementing the power and energy of the three men perfectly.
The crowd was then ushered down Queen Victoria Street by a red-velvet-clad man with a white painted face and a backpack made entirely of empty plastic bottles. Those at the back followed the bobbing of his parasol and the white balloons attached to it, until he beckoned us into the Centre for the Book where we sat cross-legged through Neo Muyanga’s Thoriso le Moruso.
This musical performance – inspired by Antjie Krog’s poem, ‘Country of Grief and Grace’ – is performed by the humble and charismatic Simon Estes Alumni Choir. Although it was difficult to discern the five movements of the piece (a prayer, confession, mantra, manifesto and catharsis) the range and power of the voices was undeniably stirring. The highlight of the performance was the highly-enthused conductor/singer who would sporadically jump out to conduct the rest of the choir with his mouth, exaggerating the notes for the rest to mirror.
We continued our amble down Queen Victoria Street receiving intermittent hugs from performers dressed as pieces of architecture. Alarming at first, these pieces of wall, columns and window mouldings blended into their surroundings until their arms extended out to embrace someone into their soft fabric costume: an exercise by Kira Kemper to “alter the perceptions of how public and personal spaces are negotiated”.
Further on down the street a video projected onto a wall showed Rhine Bernardino sitting motionless while garbage was flung at her naked, huddled body – a symbol, the notes told us, of the filth of relentless economic growth and empathetic failure.
Things got even more abstract as we stumbled across a bare-breasted Mamela Nyamza with a tin bucket of red laundry on her head. Her autobiographical work, Hatch, is something of an identity crisis caught in organza material strung over a telephone wire-come-washing line. En pointe much of the time, Nyamza struggles and stammers up and down and inside the ‘washing line’ trying on different outfits and personae. Her movements transition from that of a demented swan gnawing on the organza, to an elated child twitching and fiddling and rolling on the front row of the audience. Intriguing and visually arresting as it was, its comment on the juxtaposition of cultures left me somewhat puzzled.
A shambling drunk then stumbled into our group who sadly, once we’d ascertained that she was not a performance piece in progress, blocked much of my vision of Shaun Oelf and Grant van Ster’s Couched, a dance conversation that was the hit of the Baxter Dance Festival last year. Fortunately for me, their piece consists of a series of impressive lifts, spins and throws so I could at least catch sight of them when they were airborne.
Said drunkard then heckled through Themba Mbuli’s Dark Cell, but even her screeches could not detract from his expressive performance. Situated in the courtyard of St George’s Cathedral, Mbuli artistically employed a prisoner’s ankle chain, contorting it into a gun and a noose and using it to create rhythmic clanging sounds against his tin drums. Black and white projections of Robben Island prison were cast against the wall behind him and as he moved so his shadow danced in the images, forming a part of them.
The evening ended on a spectacular note in Greenmarket Square with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra dazzling the crowds and drawing in even more curious onlookers. To my delight the Polite Force, who had been accompanying us all evening in their friendly, unobtrusive yet riot-gear-clad way, had gently removed the woozy woman, allowing us to sip peacefully on our complimentary wine and let the orchestra fill our souls with harmony.
Infecting the City runs in various venues in Cape Town from 10-15 March 2014.