Celebrating 5 Years of the Detours Festival

Since its inception in 2012, DETOURS has placed the nurturing of students and young professionals at the heart of its programme and this year it will include work from Wits senior Physical Theatre Students, Wits Fourth year Dance Theatre and Composition Choreography students as well as work from Tshwane University of Technology and City Varsity.

In celebrating its fifth birthday this year, the Detours Festival has showcased solo works from Nomcebisi Moyikwa, currently based at Rhodes University and Kwanele Finch Thusi, currently based in Johannesburg. Direction by: Joni Barnard and Jane Crewe and production by Wits Theatre for Wits School of Art, Division of Theatre and Performance, Detours was held in the Wits Downstairs Theatre.

At its premier on Thursday, 26 May 2016, the Detours Festival saw an exciting and captivating programme of works that include The Sound of Men; SlipVOID; UNbecoming; The Sins of my Body; and Echoes of Salt, each is reviewed below.

To open Programme One, a compilation of international exchanges between students from the Dance Department at the University of Coventry in the UK and the Wits School of the Arts Division of Theatre and Performance in South Africa is exhibited. Facilitated by Katye Coe and Joni Barnard, The Online Interactive Learning Project (O.I.L) allowed students to connect and exchange given choreographic tasks over a certain period of time, using the online platform for international video calling, Skype.

The exchange has taken place via online platforms, and has allowed students to connect across oceans through dance and choreography, a common passion. Each student was allocated an international counterpart, and each week the pairs would be given a choreographic task to complete. This exercise not only allowed participants to engage with different styles and cultures, but also challenged them to think beyond their limitations, to unite as a collective voice.

Students expressed that the element of technology and film allowed them to explore new ways of creating, as well as discover new meaning making in their work. Like all collaborations, challenges are inevitable, however 4th year BADA student, Candice Modiselle simply stated ‘Its not because we’re on different continents, it’s just because we’re different creators.’

Celebrating 5 Years of the Detours Festival
Echos of Salt. Photograph by Marlé Coetzer.

The Sound of Men

Choreographed by: Kwanele Finch Thusi

Performed by: Kwanele Finch Thusi, Siphesihle Machabawe, Given Kgasago, Thapelo Bambo, Vanessa Magubane, Nozipho Nkosi, Phumla Ndaba, Moses Dlamini, Nomcebo Shabangu, Banele Mtshali

The Sound of Men is a curious work, as it breaks your expectations of conventional dance, created in residency with the Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative, and in partnership with Sibikwa Arts Centre. The work focuses on exploring the gay male identity, hegemonic masculinity and how gay male choreographers are perceived within South African contemporary culture.

As you enter the theatre, you are confronted with a male body in underwear that is spread across the floor of the entrance, an intriguing prospect. As the work formally begins we see, and hear two female figures dragging the male body across the stage, they begin to scribble on his skin frantically. Lights up, and we see a composition of different performers in casual, everyday attire and the body revealed. As the performers begin moving, we see variations of reaching movements, directed at the audience.

The performers possess blank stares, almost trance like. They twitch and tick and itch. The male body that has been still, across the floor, awakens. He is strong, masculine; has long hair and a goatee. The dancers continue to explore their twitches and grow into the exploration of the body in spasm, eventually it escalates to a violent ‘death’ for all. The work concludes with the performers inviting audience members to enjoy a slow dance on stage.

However, at times, some of the dancers are not present, grounded and therefore may come across as unsure of themselves. The spacing feels as if it takes place on only one plane and may not be dynamic enough. The subject matter is highly charged, however it feels as if the work does not build to its climax. There are promising performers in this group and it is certainly a work to investigate further.

Slip

Choreographed by: Grace Barnes (Dance RP student, BADA IV (Bachelor of dramatic Arts)

Performed by: Gugu Dhlamini (BADA II), Sandile Mazibuko (BADA II)

Slip explores the human need for simultaneous autonomy and governing of one’s very own existence – we align. Attach. Attack. We want. Self. Other – the cycle repeats.

As the work opens we see two bodies engaged in a transfer of weight, they are dressed in brown. They separate and then come back together, yearning for one another, but seeking freedom. Their movements are strong yet subtle. We enjoy exciting impact movements as the two performers shift between multiple transfers of weight. Legs wrapped around bodies, dragging bodies, back to back.

Although the facial expressions of the performers may at times come across as nervous and the spacing feels one sided, they redeem themselves with their other moments of strong connection and focus. These two 2nd year BADA students should relish in the work they have created, as it is a pleasant and concise duet.

Celebrating 5 Years of the Detours Festival
Unbecoming starring Quinton Manning. Photograph by Marlé Coetzer.

VOID

Choreographed by: Mersiha Mesihovic, in collaboration with the cast

Performed by: TUT students: Tshepo Mokoena, Timeletso Khalane, Nelson Malahlela, Lungile Mahlangu, Mxolisi Motaung, Akhona Mbekwa

VOID is the 2nd movement of the 3-part suite – The Trilogy of Survival. This work takes a look at the struggle against social conformity and the individual struggle for self-determination in our vastly standardised society. Originally developed in collaboration with CircuitDebris company dancers, this resetting of VOID was created with the students within a weeklong intensive workshop process at TUT in April 2016.

The work is raw and satisfyingly void of any superfluity. The dancers are all dressed in casual wear. The movement vocabulary makes use of low dimensions of the body. The dancers are present, grounded and light on their feet. They are in touch with their bodies and the floor, and each performer offers their own panache to the choreography.

The work explores visual motifs of joy in a sea of misery and the constant struggle with the body and the self. There is a militant undertone to the work, as if something is off in the body, an eeriness that is present in the soundscape too. The performers indulge in the heaviness of the body and the work itself is so weighty in emotion, one is left holding ones breath.

UNbecoming

Choreographed by: Candice Modiselle (Dance RP student, BADA IV (Bachelor of dramatic Arts)

Performed by: Quinton Manning

UNbecoming is an exploration of the concept of redundancy and breaking the cycle of the daily life. Life is just different days plotted on a calendar, but the same routine. What happens when the system is dismantled?

As we re-enter the theatre, there are chairs suspended from the bars above, chairs onstage and a male figure in a skirt pacing around the space. As the lights come up, we soon realise that his skirt is made from red ties. He is shirtless, thus his attire gives him a very primal aesthetic. Seated on a chair he begins to perform a gestural phrase, evocative of De Keersmaeker. It increases in speed, his hair bouncing along with him wherever he goes. The performer moves through the space, interacting with the set, standing on the chairs, dancing around them.

He is a strong, captivating dancer and he embraces his masculinity with his lovely lines. There is a moment in the work where he strikes a ‘feminine’ pose. This very brief moment is delightful and more play like this should be encouraged in this work. Although the set is intricate, one may question the significance of the chairs, especially the suspended ones.

Celebrating 5 Years of the Detours Festival
The Sins of My Body starring Thandeka Sincadu. Photograph by Marlé Coetzer.

The Sins of My Body

Choreographed by: Shannon Tootla (Dance RP student, BADA IV (Bachelor of Dramatic Arts)

Performed by: Thandeka Sincadu (BADA II), Lekeisha Smith (BADA II), René Setlhako (BADA II)

The Sins of My Body is a performance that explores the insurrection of family hierarchies and questions preconceived notions of society’s ‘perfect mother’. This work explores the experiences of a mother in emotional appeal for forgiveness and cleansing.

This work is abundant with striking images. The opening image of the mother character in a large white dress conjures up memories of Mary Sibande’s They don’t make them like they used to (2008). Two performers crawl out from under the white dress. They are in contrast with their mother, in black lace ensembles. The performers are all intense in their focus and intention and their gestural phrases are delicate and interesting. The work could be explored further as the vocabulary is interesting. The work could possibly travel more in the space.

Echoes of Salt

Choreographed by: Joni Barnard in collaboration with the cast

Performed by: Wits Physical Theatre IV students: Grace Barnes, Skye Gibson, Megan Gottscho, Ayanda Mahamba, Rachael Makatile, Nomathasanqa Mhlakaza, Tumelo Candice Modiselle, Dimakatso Motholo, Shannon Tootla, Jonathan Young

Joni Barnard choreographs Echoes of Salt in collaboration with the performers and using Nayyirah Waheed’s poem, therapy, as a source for choreographic investigation. The work engages directly with the themes of the poem and explores loss, grief, love, survival, healing and the capacity for human beings to overcome.

There is excitement as soon as the performers are revealed in their goth-like attire. A line, dark makeup and stern faces. They recite a poem by Nayyirah Waheed followed by gestures; these gestures attract the eye, especially when the performers break away out of unison. The poem itself is effortless and could possibly be explored further in terms of tone and layering. The video of the text compliments this specific moment in the work.

The performers break away from their line and perform gestural phrased at different times to their own soundscape of breath, and beating sounds made on their chests. This is refreshing to see, especially with such a big cast and can be expanded on further. The images created as the work progresses are well choreographed, and it is the flocking section in the centre of the stage that is a highlight. The work is promising, however the dancers should enjoy the performance more, become one with the floor and radiate with presence and focus.

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