Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Neo Muyanga

Flower of Shembe

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.

Memory of How It Feels

I took my friend V with me to last evening’s opening of Neo Muyanga’s Memory of How It Feels at The Baxter because she loves music a lot. This live performance is directed by Ina Wichterich, with Apollo Ntshoko, Chuma Sopotela, Andile Vellem, and musicans Galina Juritz, Thandi Ntuli, Candice Martin, Benjamin Jephta, Anna Telford, Natalie Mason, Nicola du Toit. Obviously Neo wrote the script, composed the music and was there with the musicians, playing, singing and conducting.

My writing about this piece is definitely going to be all over the place and will probably make little complete sense. This is probably because it’s exactly how I received the piece. There were things I absolutely loved, and thought I ‘got’, things I loved without having a clue, things I ‘got’ which I found a bit boring, things that I totally didn’t understand and didn’t enjoy.

The piece is sort of in three stories, but it’s hard to tell how they are that. They have weird, non-verbal, dance-move links. I love the language of the stories, and the words. They are strange and the language is manipulated in a totally different, clever and sexy way. It is delicious and surprising. The three performers are quite fantastic. Apollo does most of the speaking, and it’s a tough job with the kind of words he is given to use. He is successful for the most part. And he is an amazing performer. Chuma is so wonderful to watch. She manages to be totally invested in what she does, and it feels so right, and natural, and real. And she has the most beautiful back. Andile is gorgeous too. He is deaf, and his sign language gives the whole thing a different dimension.

It was a treat to have the musicians live, on stage and to watch and listen to how they linked up with the action to become part of a whole. And I enjoyed the music itself, which was original and exciting. And the dancing/moving was beautiful too, if not quite repetitive. You see, I don’t actually get a lot of the dancing/moving stuff, especially if it has a lot of unexplained emotion with it.

And that is the thing, I think. A lot of unexplained emotional stuff. When that happens we, the audience, watch and enjoy but don’t feel. We are watching others feel. And I wanted to feel, but didn’t.

I think Ina, as director, did a wonderful job with the areas that she is an expert in; all the physical, dance, movement stuff was fantastic. The phrasing of the magic words though, needed better sculpting.

Memory of How It Feels is an interesting, sometimes magical, very strange performance. It is not for theatre sissies though. You need to have confident theatre opinion to get your head around it. It might make non theatre people scared.

My friend V didn’t say much, but on the way home she said the experience was a bit like watching cricket when you don’t know how the game works, and you don’t really understand the why of it.

The funny thing is, I’m still thinking about it. And remembering how it feels.

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