Brave art

2011-09-09 14:31

The Americans call it a “twofer”. It’s short for “two for one” and it means buying one and getting one for free.

It’s not ideal to compare American fast food and coupon deals to two of Africa’s finest artists, but Refuse the Hour puts both of these extraordinary talents on stage in a collaborative performance that will break new ground for both audiences and the art fraternity alike.

This collaboration offers the audience a unique creative experience by bringing together some of South Africa’s finest artists onto a single stage – artists that would never traditionally share the same platform.

Dada Masilo’s art as a dancer is not usually compatible with French filmmaker Georges Méliès’ hundred-year-old cinematic innovations. William Kentridge’s drawings make unusual bed-fellows with modernist African composer Philip Miller’s sounds.

But these elements of the arts – visual, movement and music – have come together in a truly fascinating show that is as surprising in its content as it is in its entertainment value.

Yes, it’s intellectual. This isn’t Jazz on the Lake. Kentridge’s lectures on The Nose are real Marxist-meets-post-Russian-revolutionary literature that isn’t the stuff of a soap opera.

What you’ll find is an extraordinary parallel with modern South African politics. Go and see it.

Is Juju the nose? Is the ANC the poor, unfortunate collegiate assessor Kovalyev?

Refuse the Hour challenges us and is a heartening reminder of what South Africans are capable of. Don’t miss Masilo’s performance.

It is something so special, you’ll be as proud of being South African when you see her dance as you were when you watched the opening ceremony of last year’s World Cup. She’s that good.

Her ability to explore space and her intensity of character is no Beyonce booty bounce. Instead, Masilo reminds us all that there is more to us as a creative nation than “interesting” BlackBerry cases, Mini Coopers and weaves.

We have seen Kentridge’s work animated and set to music, but this is the first time dance has been introduced. And who better to execute that introduction than the reigning queen of movement, 22-year-old Masilo.

Before the age of 18, Masilo had already performed for Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands; danced a solo at the All Africa Games; performed a work by Gregory Maqoma to great acclaim in New York; received the Best Contemporary Dancer award at the National School of the Arts; and won the 2008 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for dance, an honour she shares with Kentridge who won this coveted award in 1987.

More recently, Masilo has been burning up the stage in performances of Swan Lake and Carmen, and is sure to bring the same intensity to Dancing with Dada.

First discovered in 1996 by the Dance Factory executive director Suzette le Sueur, Masilo is a consummate creative.

“Kids in the township dance to keep off the streets,” explains Masilo, “I was in a dance group called The Peacemakers.

 It was a Meadowlands dance troupe. In 1996, we performed at the Dance Factory for Arts Alive. Suzette invited us back and in 1997 I started formal training.”

Since then, Masilo has had a rich and comprehensive dance education which included tuition by greats such as Leonora Stapleton, the Donald Bird Group, Horton and Martha Graham, as well as her teachers at the Dance Factory Gladys Agulhas and David Matamela.

She spent last year in Cape Town with Alfred Hinkel’s famed Jazzart Dance Theatre.

Kentridge says: “I had seen some of Dada’s performances, the ones that she choreographed, and in which she’d also danced and knew that I wanted to work with her.

“I had a workshop for The Refusal of Time in Cape Town last December and so I contacted Dada and was very pleased that she was able to become part of the work.”

This year, Masilo created and performed the role of Lady Macbeth in PJ Sabbagha’s Macbeth, which played to packed audiences at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Although she has a deep love for the classics, her performance in Refuse the Hour is experimental and contemporary.

She has impressed audiences and critics alike with her extraordinary speed and theatricality, and as a choreographer she has a unique style that fuses dance techniques and original scores with the work of 20th-century composers.

Their collaboration, Dancing With Dada in Refuse the Hour, debuts on Friday at The Market Theatre in Joburg.

Masilo says: “I took part in the beginnings of Refuse the Hour workshop in December last year. I think that as a dancer and choreographer, the project and process will be incredibly challenging.

“I’ve never done work that is not purely dance, so, from a movement perspective working with a visual artist is going to be interesting.”

Dancing with Dada is directed by Kentridge and all the images are his work. It is choreographed and danced by Masilo with fellow dancer Thato Motlhaolwa. The music is composed by Miller and sung by Ann Masina and Bham Ntabeni, among others.

The music will be performed by Jill Richards, Etienne Mcloen and Waldo Alexander.

The work wrestles with our changing ideas about time, the history of time’s standardisation, and resistance to a linear construction of time and space.

It includes dance, live music, strange machines and projections.

Masilo says: “In terms of the concept, we will of course be exploring the idea of time. What is time? How does it affect us individually and as a collective, the order it brings, and the chaos and conflict it creates? Also how time affects us physically and emotionally and, of course, the role of music and time. All of this somehow must be translated into movement, so I daresay it’s going to be a journey!”

The fearlessness that is intrinsic in Masilo’s art will hold her in good stead as she takes the stage for the very first time on opening night at the Market Theatre.

Up until then, the performance has been a series of experiments. This collaboration with Kentridge and Miller in Dancing with Dada heralds a new chapter in her career.

“When the curtain goes up, it will be the first time that we will see the show. Up until then, we would have participated in laboratories and workshops only. It will come together for the first time on stage,” explains Masilo, who collaborated before with Miller on a piece that premiered at the art festival in Brest, France, in March this year.

Titled The Bitter End of Rosemary, Masilo performed it at Durban’s Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience last week.
Miller has been working as a composer since 1994 and has collaborated with Kentridge on more than 20 projects.

His multimedia work, Rewind a Cantata and more recently Sebenza eMine, are well known, as are his film scores for Paradise Stop, The Bang Bang Club and White Lion.

For Dancing with Dada, Miller will create a musical mini-opera that incorporates mechanical percussion, voice, a 19th-century hurdy gurdy (like an organ-grinder), human breathing and a vast array of strange and rare wind instruments.

Dancing with Dada is part of The Refusal of Time, which is the ultimate collaborative programme of live performance events created with artists other than Kentridge and Miller.

These include François Sarhan, video editor Catherine Meyburgh and performance director Sue Pam-Grant. There is also a single cine-concert of Méliès’ work.

It is a great meeting of minds in which talents – drawing, dancing, filmmaking, sculpture, directing and narration – come together.

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