You know that feeling when many of the crowd get to their feet for a standing ovation at the end of a show and you remain plastered to your seat? The first thing I always think is, is it just me? Didn’t I get it? Later on, thinking about it, and once I am over the thought that it’s all a bit “emperor’s new clothes” I realise that it’s all to do with being moved. I have to be moved to my feet. That’s what sweeps me up.
There is so much that is amazing about Neo Muyanga’s ‘operetta’ Flower of Shembe. The huge, metal flowers of the set. The water. The music. The costumes. The performers, musicians and dancers. And yet, everything distracts from everything. It’s like watching a giant, gorgeous parade. The story is interesting and complicated, but, the overall feeling is that (other than the curtain call/finale, which was my best part) it’s all too on the same level; of energy, of performance, of dancing. It comes at you, over and over again, in exactly the same way. And I think this is such a great pity.
Faniswa Yisa, Chuma Sopotela, the gorgeous angel dancers Thabisa Dinga and Sean Oelf, the mad king Ledimo played by Luvuyo Mabutho (my absolute favourite performer of the night) were all really good. But I got bored of them doing the same thing, over and over again, with the same intensity. Nothing built. We were taken straight to the moment, and then it was repeated too many times. There is no doubt that director Ina Wichterich is an amazing choreographer, but for me, it felt like the scope of the work got the better of her. Beautiful ideas were clumsily executed (like the angel contraption), gorgeous music had bad technical sound.
Secretly, I wished I could have watched the musicians playing on that set, and listened to the magical, transcendent music. The rest was a big, repetitive distraction.