Review: Diving – POPArt Theatre
Taking the plunge
How refreshing and downright appropriate it was on a balmy January evening to enjoy POPArt’s production of Diving, a site-specific theatre work at the St Andrew’s diving pool in Senderwood.
Seated under the canopies, the summer dusk washing over us, a tableau of sunglass-ed and board-shorted performers is at ease below the high diving board while Marco Fernandes is poised above them, hesitating.
And so, the themes of hesitation, risk-taking, finalising decisions and finding courage within oneself, are played out in, around and above the pool. The five performers for this version – Fernandes, Jacques da Silva, Alex Halligey, Martin Grendale and Sinenhlanhla Mgeyi – use spoken word, text, voiceovers, inventive movement, music and strong personal accounts from their own histories, to explore the themes.
Fernandes is suitably uptight as he cannot decide how and when to make the big leap of faith off the high board; he fiddles and twitches and strips items of clothing and lobs them into the water. All the while, the other four bellow at him to “exhale completely”. He hopelessly tries to use the scoop net to retrieve the discarded clothing without success and eventually dives in.
Neatly shift to Halligey wrapped in mermaid-sparkly cloth, serene on the high board, remembering her first schoolgirl non-kiss with poignancy; the others quietly still on the edges of the pool. Athena Mazarakis controls two hand-held spotlights which throw enough light on the performance, creating a warm-tinged atmosphere and allowing the audience to savour the natural evening light.
Da Silva and Mgeyi are hilarious in a duo warming up at the side of the pool, each trying to outdo the other in a series of exaggerated combinations, staving off the inevitable entry into the water. Halligey again on the high board, summoning up the courage to jump after being put through her dry-land swimming training with a fishbowl and Grendale as coach.
Clever transitions using the lights, a hand-held speaker for the voice-overs - which has its own voyage on a tiny boogey-board across the pool and a mobile phone mean zero reliance on technology -a huge plus in the age of interminable load-shedding.
Another story of fear and facing the truth is recounted by Gerard Bester’s voice emanating from the floating speaker, as the bodies on the low boards become the men in the bar. The moment of loss is replaced by humour as the piece ramps up to an exuberant clowning over, on and under the boards as they all egg each on, “are you going to jump?” and ends in “watch me!” bombs, and bodies floating, faces skyward.
The thoughtful weaving of stories takes the audience on journeys of pathos and humour, allows us to be calm, reflective and also to laugh. A surprise scene with Mazarakis appearing lost and disorientated, claiming she began her daily swim in the Blairgowrie pool, and has somehow ended up in this school pool, escalates into heightened hilarity, panic and confusion, and her eventual escape.
These experimental pieces of theatre are vital and necessary as theatre-makers face massive obstacles to their craft in terms of costs for traditional venue hire, technical support and dwindling audiences. POPArt provides a space in which performers can create under a banner, whether it be in Maboneng or other sites. These works also foster an independence and willingness to collaborate, which makes for more exciting, intelligent and cleverly crafted performance.
And for us, the audience, it’s a win to sit under clear Joburg skies, inhaling the fresh air while getting our culture fix, a chance to be relaxed and breathe.
Diving was directed by Clara Vaughan. Originally devised by Gerard Bester, Jaques Da Silva, Marco Fernandes, Alex Halligey, Mwenya Kabwe, Sinenhlanhla Mgeyi, Toni Morkel and Frances Slabolepszy.
Photos by Tammy Ballantyne
Dance Quarterly is a collection of writing from various industry journalists and academics across the country. This online publication is edited and curated by Tammy Ballantyne and Jessica Denyschen. To submit your writing for consideration please email: firstname.lastname@example.org