Production:  partly god
Director : Lara Foot
Choreography: Ananda Fuchs, Sbonakaliso Ndaba, Ina Wichterich, John Linden, Alfred Hinkel and Jackie Manyaapelo.
Designer:  Craig Leo
Music Composed & Performed by: Neo Muyanga
Reviewer: Astrid Stark

 First published in Cape Times

 Disturbing entertainment seeks to offer message of hope.

 He is on his back. His legs are strapped to the arms of a rusted wheelbarrow.  Someone rushes at him and kicks violently at the wheelbarrow.    The force whips the captive man’s body into the air before it cracks back to the floor – shuddering.  Another man rushes at him; and another. The sadistic process is repeated countless times, with increased brutality, until the vicious mob’s energy is spent and the man’s body lies lifeless on the floor.

This scene performed by a troupe of Jazzart dancers embodies Partly God’s themes of trans-generational trauma, hatred, and xenophobia and mob violence.  Through the use of dance, music and poetry, the violent nature of humankind is dissected and exposed.  It is not an easy performance to watch; yet it’s morbidly fascinating. It is weird, violent and disturbing.

The performance’s narrative is that of a young man’s journey to find his father.  His spirit guide is a boy soldier that leads him along a path of hatred, fear and violence to eventual healing and enlightenment – thus supporting the notion that we are all partly god. The stage is filled with the writhing, lithe young bodies of 33 young dancers that tell this story of transcending violence and redemption. The dancers’ perfectly sculptured and toned bodies tell a story of complete dedication and rigid training.   

No less than six choreographers worked on this project and, to my taste, this resulted in various degrees of success and failure. A slow opening is followed by an uneven and not all too pleasing pace.  It may be said that dancing does not necessarily lend itself to a linear narrative, I find pleasing ebb and flow and an underlying, even if faint, rhythmic pulse to a production an essential ingredient.  At times the performance sagged and events were over-performed and endlessly repeated.  For Example Douglas Griffith’s portrayal as the protagonist enters a scene with his ‘father’.  Griffith’s character as the son seeks affection from his cold, father who aggressively rejects his son. Both actors’ performances are heart-breaking portrayals of the sadistic and masochistic relationships that we often nurture, and even seek out, in our quest for love and acceptance. It is beautifully choreographed and thought-provoking but it just carries on for far too long. I get it and want to move on. However perhaps this repetition is deemed necessary to drive the message home and ensures that it lingers on.   

That said, it appears as if the influence of so many, and varied, choreographers created astounding dance and movement combinations.  The exploration by the choreographers of our unique African rhythms and moves turns the spotlight on our distinctive style that will hopefully become ingrained in the world’s history of dance.  The dancers’ energy and passion is without fault.  It is difficult to highlight individual dancers as the entire cast is obviously completely committed to their craft. They glide across the stage and perform daring acts that involves masterful balancing and rhythm.

Set designer Craig Leo cathedral with ramps, platforms, and broken gothic arches creates an apocalyptic feeling.  A large net is suspended from the ceiling and it’s here that some of the most breathtaking action takes place.  Without wanting to give away too much; the net is used for heart racing stunts that only superbly trained, strong and confident dancers could accomplish with such ease and skill. The net becomes a metaphor for, among other things, a dividing wall that the dancers have to conquer. The net is the Berlin wall, Apartheid, hatred, and our own debilitating fear that we must overcome.  The result is a vivid, disturbing and brilliantly choreographed scene that lingers long after the show has ended.

The sound needs some attention as most of the poetry and spoken words were inaudible from the back.  Neo Muyanga’s original score of music sets the pace and mood of the performance reflecting the violence but also the themes of rebirth and hope.  Director Lara Foot says working without words, which is her usual theatrical medium, was at once challenging and liberating.  Her admiration for the dedicated cast has no bounds and she is a firm believer that dance and the arts can be the answer to the challenge of transcendence.

partly god runs at Artscape until October 25. The End.

The danger of narratives of hate (poem from partly god)

transgenerational violence.

I have to pass you my narrative
I’m sorry that it is one of shame
It was passed to me by my father
And before that by his father to him

You can wear it quietly
You can hide it somewhere on your person
You can try to peel it from your skin like an orange
But it will be there and it will be told

It is not yours, but it will become you
It is hungry and it will eat you
And it will kill you
As it has done me
As it has … done me

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