Review – Cry Boredom

2012-06-30 18:33

French-based South African choreography star Vincent Mantsoe’s latest dance work, Opera For Fools, opened to a slow clap from an audience bored by waiting for the piece to start, 20 minutes late.

It closed to a largely similarly unenthusiastic clap by an audience freshly bored.

Beautifully set against a corrugated iron backdrop, it does what Mantsoe has, in the past, done best – it calls up the spirits. In this case, the ghosts of Soweto’s 70s and 80s shebeens, places of political intrigue, escapism, tsotsi activity, defiance, sexual violence and liberation.

Through a beautifully-considered score of local resistance songs and American soul, it creates an intriguing new dance language for the cry for freedom – pushing and pulling at the clichéd jive steps, marabi moves, boot stomps and pantsula poses that have infiltrated popular culture.

The dancers in his company are older than the usual, character etched on their faces and pathos oozing from their portrayals, the casting colourblind.

There are moments of excellence - in the hint of strip searches, the symbolic horror of gang rape, the castration of fluid expression - rocks thrown, but hanging in mid air as the dancers curb their moves and imprison their potential as apartheid did.

But the problems with the piece are manifest from the opening sequence.

Three corpses lie on the ground. Three dancers grasp their arms, which are stuck to them.

The dead won’t wake up, but they also won’t let go. And they don’t let go for ages and ages.

And then they don’t let go some more. What could have been an emotive symbolic introduction becomes a tedious, laboured exercise of sameness and repetition.

The piece continues in the same vein, pushing past the entertainment threshold at almost every given opportunity, sacrificing spectacle for choreographic purism.

The set is horribly under-utilised by both the choreographer and the lighting designer.

The costume changes are largely irrelevant. The narrative folds in on itself – in here we are free, out there we are in chains, those chains enter in here, we take them back out to the street – over and over.

We got it the first time.

To make matters worse, the piece is almost entirely devoid of humour or irony. It takes itself terribly, terribly seriously.

And then boom! Right at the end, Mantsoe becomes Mr Drum. The former wunderkind of South African contemporary dance breaks from his mould and engages his fellow male dancers in a spectacular series of routines.

He pulls a dervish of a solo out of his hat, a moment of sheer joy. But it was too little too late.

I would have happily paid the ticket price just to see him on his own, in a 10 minute version of Opera For Fools.

Sadly, though, I had to sit through a bum-numbingly boring production to experience one brief moment of truly thrilling showmanship.

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