A Journey to Johannesburg and Addis Ababa/ Chapter IV: Dances and an Apricot Moon

Third day.  So let me tell you about Hafiz’s desert and Xhosa initiation ceremonies and the full moon over Soweto.

It is actually Tuesday but this a Sunday tale. Today must suffice as my weekend for the next two weeks—no more days off, and festivals and traveling are exhausting ventures both. Besides we have presented two of the artists performing this afternoon at N4th already so I am only missing two new things.

Now for a little writing, a little reading, a little napping and a nice lunch at the Lucky Bean. Maybe an afternoon stroll down the main street of Melville.

Back to Sunday then. First up was Hafiz Dhaou and Aicha M’Barek’s  Kharbga, Jeu de Pouvoir and, while I have no idea what that means, I will share my thoughts about the work which greatly impressed me. The stage is filled with piles and plains of gravel (more like broken shale than the small grains we usually associate with gravel). The dancers spin and spin but they seem to be approaching their unbroken movement in a somewhat lackluster way. I am feeling ambivalent. Whirling and twirling. Twirling and whirling. I almost have had enough and then… it becomes personal. Each dancer, including the vividly white/pale/blonde young man who has been creating an island of gravel with a palm tree and a playmate, makes his/her own moves. Each with a very different intent and rhythm. The stage seems to get busier and busier with action and exhaustion and then more action. The dancers surely must rest soon. But they do not. They whirl and twirl some more and run and dive and dance and roll. By now I am exhausted too. Tired of the fine dust raised from the gravel but mesmerized by Hafiz… continuing to rotate…in different stances and poises but never stopping. Hafiz doesn’t really look so dancerly anymore…he’s older, not quite the slim young man I first saw dance…but his  presence is powerful and his movement smooth and steady, inviting you into his desert and his dance.

After Hafiz’ performance at the Dance Factory in Newtown we headed for Soweto once again. It’s a drive but in a comfortable bus who can complain.

Besides the history of Soweto must always dance before your eyes and Adrienne, our wonderful South African dance historian, is sitting behind me pointing out some things I would otherwise miss—mines being re-mined because of new ways of extracting gold, Morris Isaacson High School where the June 16, 1976 Soweto uprising began, etc.

Soweto is so ordinary and so extraordinary at the same time. A site of one of the 20th Century’s great misfortunes and the site of a 21st Century booming city/suburb.

For whatever reason I really like the photo above…

And I get to take my own photos approaching the new theater.

The performances that follow include La Reunion artist, Jerome Brabant, in a hard-to-fathom solo rolling and writhing with a number of white cones attached to his body—he is beautiful but I am not sure to what end in this particular piece. I was most disappointed that Ahmed Khemis from Tunisia/Algeria chose to show a film of his work instead of even an unfinished rendition of the real thing. I receive his emails and he appears to be a most interesting dancer—an impression borne out by the film—but since he was present with only a rather unconvincing excuse for not letting us see the real live Ahmed dance, it left a bad taste in many mouths. Gregory Maqoma and Florent Mahoukou (South Africa and the Congo) gave us “Wake Up”. Nice dancing but maybe not as exceptional a work as we have come to expect from Gregory. Another artist from the Congo, Franck Michel Bakekolo was potentially very interesting and succeeded to a degree—enough story of the horrendous situations in which people survived for many years even for story-loving me. Well done but at the end of a long evening of late starts and programming confusion it was hard to focus. Poor dancers who come at the end of these long days!

The last performance on the esplanade was meaningful in a couple of ways. Yuhl Headman, a South African Xhosa, danced his audience through the initiation ceremony that transforms boys to men and his very mixed feelings about the tradition.

It was a remarkably appropriate ending to a day (and in the middle of a week) that is all about contemporary Africa. Easy to forget the past is never really past. Internal Findings (I…AM) was a thoughtful moving performance enhanced by an egg-yolky full moon over Soweto.

One Comment on “A Journey to Johannesburg and Addis Ababa/ Chapter IV: Dances and an Apricot Moon

  1. Once again you are able to be my guide into the world of dance, which I so do not understand. perhaps I try too hard. You seem to easily find meaning and purpose in each dance and presenter. Thank you for being my “conductor” on this journey. Tom

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