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
To all the incredible humans who back our Thundafund Campaign. I would like to say thank you so much for being part of this journey in getting the Dance Umbrella Collection digitized. Some have asked to remain anonymous, so in the quiet grace of anonymity: THANK YOU! To the following people, thank you for being awesome and for your support. We raised 74% of our target :)
In no particular order:
Jeanette Harmse Pelser
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When a community comes together we can make amazing things happen. I am sending you all a giant hug and so much love.
The Ar(t)chive NPC
ReRouting Arts Festival
An explanation by Tegan Peacock (Festival director)
ReRouting Arts Festival is a site-specific multi-disciplinary arts festival that uses alternate public spaces around the city of Pietermaritzburg. The festival aims to foster a community spirit within the city while promoting a culture of art. People from all walks of life are invited to attend unique audience experiences where they are able to interact with art, the artists and each other. We aim to burst the individual bubbles that people enclose around themselves and break through stereotypes within the city surrounding people and spaces. The festival strives to wake up the city of PMB and its people, to disrupt the monotony of day to day life and create safe spaces for dialogue, interaction and experiences. This festival provides a means to reclaim our city and its spaces for its people and its artists.
We hosted dynamic Malagasy dancer and choreographer, Julie Iarisoa, for the duration of the festival. Julie ran interactive and energetic dance workshops, sharing her movement, experiences and creating spaces to learn and exchange with learners from a number of different local schools. She also collaborated with local KZN artists (Flatfoot Dance Company, Lorin Sookool, JC Zondi and Tshediso Kabulu) to create two new stimulating works that were performed as part of the festival programme. This created room for networking, collaboration and shared learning between all the artists involved.
Local PMB muralist Jono Hornby, recent winner of the International Public Art Festival, created two spectacular murals over the festival week. He guided and inspired learners from Sukuma High School, helping him to create and paint a wall mural for their school. The other was situated on the corner of a busy street in the city centre. The festival aims to encourage collaboration and bore witness to a number of exciting works presented by local artists, including a collaborative electro acoustic music performance by artists Francis Mennigke and Wayne Reddiar which transported the audience to a different sensory plane using sound and light.
Throughout the festival the events aimed to engage the public with art and its creators. We enjoyed public art creations, artist collaborations that evolved before our eyes and were able to engage with individual artists and their creative processes. This created an accessibility for both the public and the artists themselves that lends itself towards eliminating any fear of the unknown or lack of understanding and attempts to open up the arts and its processes to becoming more accessible and engaging.
We, as a festival, question what has up until now been prescribed as the norm and aim to find and represent a new norm for how art, theatre, music and dance are represented and experienced by its audiences.
ReRouting Arts Festival would not have been possible without the support and enthusiasm of many of our local artists and businesses and for this we are truly grateful.
ReRouting Arts Festival was supported by an ANT Mobility Grant from Pro Helvetia Johannesburg financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), The Floating Outfit Project in association with the National Arts Council, our media sponsor The Witness and in association with The Tatham Art Gallery. We would like to thank all our sponsors for their generous support of ReRouting Arts Festival and sharing in our vision.
Light in a time of blackouts
An opinion by Yves Vanderhaeghen (Editor of The Witness)
It was one of those moments in which the world just explodes out of its bounds with energy and possibilities.
It’s not often I go to town at night. If you go along West Street, a friend said to me recently, there are no street lights. It’s all dark. Yes, said another, it’s quite eerie. I like cities by night, for the people and for the lights, except, when there are no lights people tend to retreat to where they might find some, and then it’s not so much fun. And then you lose interest, you get out of the habit and opt for anti-social alternatives like television.
Last Thursday, I did venture out, and I even took my 81-year-old mother along. Down Sweetwaters Road, along Victoria. There was light ahead, and then there wasn’t. Then I realised, 6pm, load shedding. What had drawn me out of my nocturnal refuge was the launch of ReRouting Arts Festival, which was creating a bit of a buzz. On the bill were dancing, music, a collaborative painting gig with Brent Dodd and Siyabonga Sikosana, craft beer from Clockwork Brewhouse (you have to try it, although, mea culpa, I was more in the mood for pink gin), and a vegan bite if you’d missed supper, as I had.
But, storm clouds were gathering over the hill and the power was out, and the mood was wondering whether to darken or not and the crowd was small and a resigned sigh of “Oh Maritzburg” was starting to form.
There was no need for despair. The organiser has a tent for the storm, which never came, and a generator for power. The crowd grew, the music mingled with the generator’s hum and no one minded. The stage lights came up, and the dance was on.
This was no ordinary stage. By day it’s a parking lot. If you’ve been redecorating your house you’ve probably parked there to your paints form Hall’s. It forms part of the Worq space, which calls itself a “hyperlocalised community centre for business people”. But for the evening it was a place for the arts. It was open, it was free, and it was exotic.
It was one of those moments in which the world just explodes out of its bounds with energy and possibilities. It also felt desperately ephemeral. I wanted to bottle it, to hawk it around the city so that everyone could get a bit, so that the dark streets and the wan walls and the empty eyes of the city hall could get their mojo back. I loved that it was taking place in the city, in plain view, not in some hermetic enclave, sealed by money and ease and privilege, white or otherwise. Most important was that it was happening in the first place, when just about any other mention of Maritzburg has to do with dysfunction and paralysis and rot of some description. The stuff that saps hope and energy.
Some people, however, see all of this urban decay and don’t just slump into a moan, because the need to do something to fix things is just too urgent to indulge the despair.
Who are these creatures of optimism? The guiding force behind ReRouting Arts Festival, and remember her name, is Tegan Peacock. She has a day job, although you wouldn’t guess from the amount of time she spent on pulling this festival together. The first I knew about her was when she walked into my office to present a very ambitious vision of art in the city and to ask if The Witness would back it. The vision, we share: to revitalise Maritzburg. So yes, we backed it. It had happenings in Hilton and the townships, in noisy Victoria Road and in the Tatham gardens. Even in the basement parking lot of Parklane Spar. It brought together dancers and musicians from Durban and Maritzburg and Madagascar, artists from Mpophomeni and Edendale, young and old, black and white. As I said, there’s no ambition-deficit here, and it ran mostly on volunteers and raw creativity.
An ambition like this is no to just about the performance, about the thrill of the moment and getting a shot of culture. It’s about the need to lay down new urban neural pathways, the realisation that things happen when things happen, that people connect when they have cause to get together.
The degradation of the public sphere, and the literal loss of public space to crime and official carelessness, make it hard sometimes to re-imagine how it works, how to put everything together in a way that’s good and inspiring for everyone. Someone was overheard saying she hadn’t sat on the grass at the Tatham gardens for many years. That’s what it’s about. Reclaiming the city one patch at a time, street corner by street corner.
I sound like proselytiser. What can I say. This young energy is infectious. There has to be light after Eskom.
Tegan Peacock started her dance training in Classical Ballet. On completion of Matric she studied for her BMus (dance) degree at the University of Cape Town’s School of Dance, majoring in Classical Ballet, Contemporary Dance, Dance History, Benesh Movement Notation (with Distinction) and Classical Piano.
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