Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Jazzart’s Boring Biko’s Quest

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.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Peter Terry

    Slunk home to puppy poo. When the emperor appears in public without clothes on, it’s your duty to point it out to the watchers.

  2. Natalie

    ‘Trite’ Ms Head is a very harsh and unfortunate criticism and not surprising leading you to ‘feeling unsatisfied’ thats it then Ms Head, you’d prefer a fresh take on this ol’ tired story of racial oppression.

    OK but in the mean time the rest of us will commemorate the tragic loss of such a significant African Leader. You may recall, from that time too, that he’s significance was not only in his tragic death but in his bold and revolutionary life, fearless advocate for social justice and inspiring Black South Africans to take back our dignity, stripped away by Apartheid.

    I thought in fact that it was this that moved the dancers, that the interpretation allowed them to bare themselves and they did this with pride and confidence and attitude. I was overwhelmed actually and I’m not the ‘target range’ either but I was so proud.

    I see you, Jazzart dancers, I hear you and I appreciate your ‘overflow of emotion’ because I know what you found in Biko and I know that “literal interpretaion, violence, torture, protest, proclamation” is still in our hearts, we need to find it way down there and excavate it to find ourselves.

  3. Caroline

    Sadly, I agree with you Megan! The piece actually left me angry. That was not a quest to understand all that Biko stood and fought for. It was the history of our country in mundane and predictable sequences. It is time to see us embody stories – particularly the values that Biko stood for – in the way that we tell a story. For me the quest is why we have failed Biko – what did he stand for that we as individuals and as a nation have not been able to embody. That is the quest. I’m bored with the attitude that if the piece changes the dancers then its done its job. That smacks of Mbongeni Ngema and his HIV Aids plays. The job of the performer is to transform the life of the audience member. That should never be forgotten! And I felt utterly failed, because I love Mandla’s work and it has changed me.

  4. chris widman

    “I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.” – Film director Frank Capra

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