Physical theatre Waltzes right through masculinity narrative

By Chelsea Haith

Intense and jarring, the performers leapt and stomped out a disjointed and frenetic performance in Waltz, a physical theatre inspection of masculinity and citizenship. Their bodies thrummed to the stirring and fragmented cacophony of sound in this National Arts Festival Fringe circuit Ovation Award winning piece.

“The work is influenced by the ethos of the project: using theatre as a sub-space where these young men and myself could practice our ‘citizenship’,” explained director Nomcebisi Moyikwa.Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 11.24.49 AM

Waltz is intended as an exploration of selfhood for Moyikwa and the six performers, Damian van Selm, Mlondiwethu Dubazane, Masixole Heshu, Smangaliso Ngwena, Rafé Green and Likhaya Jack.

Certain forms of masculinity in South Africa are typically portrayed as violent in media representations and the performances by the six male dancers work against that reductionist narrative. Smangaliso Ngwena gives a particularly soft-edged and touching performance in his manipulation of his body, portraying vulnerability and strength in his movement.

The suggestion of puppetry at the beginning of the piece, where one man holds another up by the shoulders of his coat is intended as a representation of a man teaching his son a quintessentially European dance to his son. This implies the way in which men and South Africans are often victims of patriarchal discourses and Eurocentric cultural forms that demand that they behave and perform their masculinity in particular ways.

Nomcebisi Moyikwa watches the participants practice ahead of their performances at the National Arts Festival.  IMAGE: Chelsea Haith

Nomcebisi Moyikwa watches the participants practice ahead of their performances at the National Arts Festival.
IMAGE: Chelsea Haith

The physical theatre piece featured some spoken monologue in which characters speak at one another in isiXhosa. Moyikwa explained that this incorporation of speech into the piece reflects the human experience. “Pedagogy used in physical theatre allows different texts; body, spoken text, music, sound and lights to converse with each other. For me this is to reveal the complexity of being human,” she said.

Like most directors, Moyikwa sees the piece as being intrinsically open to interpretation, given that even while it is being performed it requires the performers to engage with their physical and emotional contexts. “Waltz is a whole complex experience for the performers and myself. There is no one way of reading the work and no solutions given by the work,” Moyikwa explained.

Emotionally charged and intense, the piece holds the audience’s eyes as the performers fill the stage with their physical deconstruction of dominant narratives of masculinities and replace it with an ambiguity that leaves space for a new conception of self, for all South Africans. The piece closed its run with a performance in the  Best of Fest programme at the Rhodes Drama Department on 23 July.

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