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VIRTUALLY BLONDE (article first published : 2005-08-18)

Contemporary dance is a multi-layered discipline which can sometimes be extremely difficult to understand. At the same time, audiences don’t want an “in-your-face” explanation or storyline.

More often than not, the choreographer - or the artist (in terms of visual art) – is not comfortable in articulating what generated the artistic juices for the work in question. So programme notes or press releases tend to give a broad overview.

However, for a complex and challenging piece such as Gregory Maqoma’s Virtually Blonde which opened the Jomba 2005! Contemporary Dance Experience tonight, I must confess that I would have welcomed a deeper insight into the choreographer’s creative process.

The programme notes state that the work “deals with how the body unconsciously reveals one's hidden narratives”. Virtually Blonde asks the questions; “How much of ourselves are we prepared to reveal to others and ourselves?” and “What do we keep hidden or secret, and why?” It’s about confronting one’s own history, exploring who we are, how far we have travelled after 10 years of democracy in South Africa and what the journey ahead holds in store.

I often found it difficult to follow Gregory Maqoma’s train of thought. Just when I felt that I understood that he was telling me something, the work seemed to veer off at a tangent or offer a repetitive process which left me confused and disoriented. But perhaps that’s what the programme notes mean by “edgy and confrontational”.

However, it’s not compulsory to understand dance - or any form of art - unless you are writing about it, teaching it, selling it or investing in it. So, just sit back and enjoy Gregory Maqoma’s superbly performed work. Comprising his own unique style of fusion of European and African movement, Virtually Blonde is a collaboration with the Moving into Dance Mophatong performers.

“What is taste when I know the taste of tasteless?” asks the main character. A further remark follows: “I have seen the extinction of eternity” Another: “I am not a human being and that is good.” Providing the thought-provoking text in the main is Nhlanhla Mahlangu who performs with Sonia Radebe, Thabo Rapoo, Muzi Shili and Luyanda Sidiya. I was particularly impressed with the latter’s performance.

With its hanging cheesecloth panels, Nicholas Hlobo’s strikingly white set design could have been overpowering but David Hlatswayo’s lighting design provides softer moods. The bamboo poles added to the Zen touch but I never did work out what the buckets were for! George Motaung’s original soundscape is evocative.

THE 8th Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience presented by the Centre for Creative Arts (UKZN) takes place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, the KZNSA, Ekhaya Multi-Arts Centre (KwaMashu) and the Dorothy Nyembe Community Hall (Cato Crest) from August 17 to 28.

There will be one more performance of Virtually Blonde on August 18 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at 19h30. All ticket prices for the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre and KZNSA are R35 (R25 students). Book at Computicket. (See full information on Jomba 2005 in separate article) Caroline Smart




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