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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

LOSING UTOPIA (article first published : 2002-07-21)

The ripples of the horrific attacks on the United States on September 11 are beginning to manifest themselves in a tangible form in the creative arts world. Seen from whatever perspective, that date will mark a turning point in millions of lives – a reminder of man’s inhumanity to man through the blatant disregard for civilian lives in a war where civilian aircraft can be turned into manipulated vessels of annihilation.

The world over, ordinary people were affected. Some people reacted in fear and started to turn inwards. Others began taking a long hard look at themselves, their lifestyles and their philosophies. This latter trend was strongly in force at the recent National Arts Festival in Grahamstown – where works in all disciplines focused on a deeper spirituality and search for self-recognition.

This thinking may or may not have been consciously behind director Gulshan Mia and her cast’s decision to create an ensemble work in Losing Utopia. However, it portrays individuals’ suppressed thoughts and emotions. The tendency to create barriers and masks. The feelings that have the power to destroy the self until they are grappled with and placed in their proper context.

A production by Durban Institute of Technology (formerly Technikon Natal) students, Losing Utopia played the Student Festival in Grahamstown and recently had two performances back in Durban at the Courtyard Theatre.

At the opening scene, the cast is grouped in various stages of self-absorption. The entrance of a striking woman (Zipporah Jali) in sequinned dress and high heels causes a stir. She doesn’t fit, she’s a menace, she’s unwelcome – reads the response of the others. She finds herself surrounded by hooded figures and given a small pillbox. As she opens the lid, her life flashes before her as she embarks on a painful journey of self-analysis.

“Being suffocated by your own thoughts is a very slow way to die”, says one of the characters in a telling statement. Strong dialogue and interesting arguments are put forth, there are scenes where women’s mouths are taped or they furiously brush their hair as if to brush away fear and stress. The action all happens in a short space of time. Was it all a dream or a lightening trip – induced by a mind-altering drug, perhaps? Or, the more powerful force, the focused mind itself?

I have come to respect Gulshan Mia’s controlled performance style. Losing Utopia is her first production as a director and while she has created the foundations of a very interesting and powerful work, at the moment it is too fragmented.

Each item tends to come across with its own individual style and not as part of cohesive but multi-faceted journey of exploration to self-enlightenment.

Andrea Olivo has produced some beautiful images but they are not shown to good advantage on a cloth backdrop. Perhaps the idea was to produce a crumpled image of things once beautiful but it didn’t read well.

If Gulshan Mia is given the opportunity to spend more time on it, allowing the scenes to link more strongly, I should very much like to see Losing Utopia again. – Caroline Smart




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