Contemporary dance is evolving at such a fast pace in Europe that it is forgiveable to consider South Africa to be lagging behind. Nonetheless, the majority of this Cape Town audience was clearly not ready for the intense performance from Belarusian Igor Shyshko and South African Moya Michael.
The hypnotic choreography of Darling, for those who engaged with it, was both riveting and thought-shaking, yet the bursts of laughter from the audience indicated a certain level of nervous discomfort. Certainly the directorial decision to keep the house lights on for the first few minutes created a sense of vulnerability. As the audience sat chatting in their seats the performers appeared with no warning and, glued to each other’s hips, arms interlocked they shuffled across the stage in a distinct rhythmical pattern and disappeared off again.
Such an abrupt and unexpected start and apparently simple choreography belied the rhythmical, intricate and precise footwork of the piece. Side by side the dancers moved together with a meticulous repetitive mechanical movement. The intensity built as the movement progressed and a simple sychronized shuffle graduated into jumps and bigger steps. Still the duo moved continuously as one unit across the stage in distinct parallel lines. Facing the front throughout the first half as if only two dimensional, the dancers restricted their movement to just legs and feet, before gradually allowing it to move up into the hips and torso.
Eventually the dancers released their tight grip, and their movements broke free of one another, and of the monotonous uniformity. The unique styles of Shyshko and Michael, and their vigour and energy created a sense of euphoric freedom as the performers delighted in their own individual movement.
After a distinct climax the motion calmed down along with a decrease in the volume of the music. Eventually the ‘free’ movement subsided and the repercussions of the climax became clear as they slowly joined arms once again and progressed into contact work of the one manipulating the other.
Described as a duet that ‘sublimates the double-edged dialogue of how to cherish what is dear and protest the unbearable’, Darling was created by Shyshko and Michael after they saw similarities in the way major events had affected them at similar periods in their lives, particularly Michael coming of age in apartheid South Africa and Shyshko growing up in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster.
The stage was predominately bare with a backdrop of recycled plastic woven together to create a wall. The music was one constant rhythm with layers of soundbites: noises, news reports and speeches from controversial politicians (eg Lukashenko’s “It’s better to be a dictator than gay”) which built an unnerving atmosphere. The performers would also mouth words or sounds at times, adding to the feeling of mental uncertainty when combined with the sublime focus and physical connection they were showing.
After the performance, Cape Town choreographer Celeste Botha exclaimed, “It was as if I was watching life.” Darling is a cutting edge showcase of the repetitive routines of our daily lives and the strictures of the society under which we willingly place ourselves. But if we are lucky, there will be moments when we too can break out into the euphoria for which we yearn.
Moya Michael and Igor Shyshko’s Darling was performed at the Artscape Theatre on 2 September 2014.