Chit chat: Brett Bailey

2010-07-04 18:33

Theatre-maker Brett Bailey keeps tongues wagging across the world with his groundbreaking work.

He recently staged Exhibit A, an installation in Germany that commented on that country’s horrific ­colonial past in South West Africa (now Namibia).

But for Africa’s first World Cup, Bailey is celebrating with his disco- ­production, House of the Holy Afro, which is on in Newtown until the final whistle blows.

The genesis of House of the Holy Afro: Years ago when I was studying in Amsterdam, I was asked to put together a nightclub show for a festival there.

The festival ­director had seen Big Dada (another of Bailey’s shows) the year before.

I’m not ­really a nightclub animal, so I trawled around town and went to a few clubs and came across a small bar.

There a techno DJ was mixing tracks on an Apple Mac and two beautiful women with long blonde wigs were sitting on bar stools crooning.

That was interesting to me, and that sparked it off.

How did your other work inform Holy Afro:
. A lot of my work – Ipi Zombi and iMumbo Jumbo – had used a lot of Xhosa traditional songs and gospel songs as well as rural and township stuff.

So I decided to work together with my company to find a DJ and put together a show that made use of that.

The finer details:
It was really a workshopped process between the seven singers/dancers and myself and the DJ.

We looked for the songs that we wanted and we put together the show we wanted with DJ Dino Moran providing the backing track.

Touring the show:
It moved from Amsterdam to Brussels and Berlin and then down to the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. We’ve been through a few cast lineups and the original show was also very long – it was four 45-minute sets.

It is down now and it has evolved with a much more musical structure.

The music:
as the show changed, I began to understand this (dance) music a lot more. So now it is a very punchy, high-powered 90-minute show.

World Cup audiences:
The Market Theatre bought the show for the duration of the World Cup.

The fanpark is right there, so I think the theatre is looking for a mixture of audiences, they want it to be the party venue after the matches.

Local appeal
: I am really hoping that we will pull in a local crowd. The few South Africans who have seen it abroad were completely blown away, asking, ‘when is this coming home?’.

I think people are going to be seeing gospel music and sangoma chants in a way they have never seen them before.

It’s highly stylised with lots of costume changes and it is very slick and choreographed.

There are no seats in the venue, everyone dances. It is a real club show and it is a lot of fun.

As an antidote:
I have a real dislike for shows like African Footprint and Umoja because I feel they are this real sanitised, curio version of Africa.

People go to the Waterfront and they buy their tall wooden giraffe and baskets and then they go and see Umoja and it’s all in the same vein – it makes me bilious.

So, this is ­really tapping into a completely different side of Africa. It’s got a primal energy, a gritty urbanness.

About lead performer Odidi Mfenyana:
he is ­really the front person of the show. He is a drag, cabaret artist in his own right and really a superstar.

He does a lot in drag, but it is really about mixing that drag with kwaito, rock, techno, house, gospel and sangoma stuff. It is really quite a ­diverse scan of what South African music can be.

Current work: House of the Holy Afro is a six-year-old work, a real departure from my previous work.

If anything, the work I’ve been creating recently is just darker and heavier. It is moving much more ­towards ­insulation than it is towards ­drama. I have just sparked a whole lot of contracts from Exhibit A.

It is what I am moving towards – like Blood Diamonds in Grahamstown last year – human installations.

I am really unpacking, going into the substrata of society and looking at what is there and then making sort of human tableaus out of it which forge ­connections and open connections for people.

» House of the Holy Afro is on at the ­Market Theatre Lab until July 11. Call 011 832 1641 for bookings 

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