Award-winning choreographer Mamela Nyamza presents her latest work of performance art, Wena Mamela, named after the phrase of exasperation Nyamza would hear from her grandmother when, as a young girl, she would run off to ballet class instead of completing her chores.
The performance progresses through a variety of stages. As the audience walks into the theatre Nyamza is already present on stage, performing fluid and articulate motions in a bright spotlight to flamboyant classical music. Her face, complete with massive false eyelashes, evolves into striking expressions while she rhythmically ripples her body. It is in this prologue of movement that the audience receives hints of Western and African dance influence reflecting the distorted identity that Nyamza faced while growing up.
Nyamza has a rare and natural ability to frequently change from intense and engaging to comical and hilarious while in mid-flow. The second part of her piece sees her literally create a garden on stage. In a bright yellow bikini Nyamza wanders off stage, each time returning with more pot plants to make up her garden. Each time she appears, she is wearing an additional – often bizarre – accessory such as sunglasses, a construction helmet, a plastic bag, sandals and rubber gloves. If the humour does not grab your attention then Nyamza will demand it by casually asking the audience to take photos of her while she poses by her plants.
The highlight of the performance is when in the midst of her garden, Nyamza dresses into a costume and headpiece that, from the back, creates an alternate character: her grandmother. Impressively, Nyamza is able to manipulate her head and neck to impersonate the character of her grandmother all while facing the back. She begins by striking defined postures while breathing loudly and emitting vigorous grunts. Nyamza’s ‘grandmother’ then condemns the young Nyamza for everything from her sexual behaviour to her career choices and identity, constantly repeating the word ‘sies’.
After an exhilarating vocal and movement scene, Nyamza defeminizes herself by slowly unstrapping the outfit and pulling off her heels and eyelashes. She returns to nurturing her plants in her bikini, leaving the remains of her grandmother in the centre of the garden with her head in a pot plant.
Wena Mamela runs at Hiddingh Hall from 30 September to 2 October 2014 as part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival.