I admit I had second thoughts about going. Dance is not a medium I feel comfortable with, and I certainly don’t really know what I’m talking about when it comes to writing about it, although, there have been a few occasions in my life where I have watched dance and been moved completely out of myself. Also, Biko’s Quest is directed by Mandla Mbothwe, and, obviously, it was based on Steve Biko, which were two good reasons to see it. But, really, I was terribly underwhelmed.
First of all, Artscape, you really don’t help make it a fun night out. The foyer of the main theatre was gloomily dark and deathly quiet when I arrived. I was skeefed by two of the nerdiest looking old queens as I crossed the terribly uncrowded foyer to the bar. There were five of us waiting to be served by the three stooges, who had no idea how to serve drinks, take money or give change. It was chaos. They are obviously entirely not used to actually having customers.
Then the show. I will say at the outset that it looked like I was the only person who didn’t like it. Inspired by a photographic exhibition and weaving together bits of historic information, visual references, personal responses and historic contexts, the show ended up being a series of pieces strung together with a school girl/Hector Pietersen look alike/narrator. The interpretation felt quite literal; violence, torture, protest, proclamation. This was obviously very clear and important and moving for most of the audience but I have to confess I found it rather trite.
I am of a generation where the tragic and hideous story of Steve Biko, his arrest, torture and murder are very well known. When I was growing up this was the pivotal incident that changed everything, even though it took so long. It was the point. It is possible that for a lot of the audience there last night (because they were young) this was an expression of history not told before, and in a new way. So, maybe the bottom line is that I was outside the range of the target market, and this left me disconnected, unmoved (by what I consider to be the most moving and heartbreaking story) and often bored.
I know, I said it before, me and dance are not best friends, but over the last 30 years I have seen mind altering productions by Jazzart in particular, where the concept, or talent and skill, or diversity, or artistry, or content has been awesome. Not here. There were moments or sections I did like, but on the whole I absolutely did not get taken up by this production.
I loved the fact that most of the company was on stage pretty much all of the time and I really enjoyed the use of the stage space, but I found the dancing of a pretty low standard. I found the piece disjointed, even though I loved the narrator and thought her to be the most powerful of the performers. I was bored by the terribly repetitive choreography, and had to shake myself awake a couple of times. And one of my biggest problems was an overflowing of emotion from many of the cast of dancer/performers. I don’t want to watch you feeling all the stuff. I want you to make me feel it. This is often a problem when tackling subject matter with such emotional density, and it is a trap that non actors can fall into with ease.
So when it all came to an end finally, imagine my total surprise when the crowd sprang to its feet and went ballistic. I slunk home, feeling unsatisfied.