Theatre review – Complexities of cattle and culture

2011-05-20 10:05

KwaZulu-Natal dance luminary Musa Hlatshwayo has created a multidisciplinary dance production that delves into the intricate aspects of his people’s cultural history.

Highlighting unexplored issues within the formation of the Zulu Kingdom and its identity, the work draws inspiration from the role of cattle in Nguni culture.

“Dayimane! is set in and around a cow dip and metaphorically explores our social, economic and cultural association with the Nguni cows and the role they play in our lives,” says Hlatshwayo.

“It fuses the use of video projection, recorded soundscapes, music, live percussion and drumming, izibongo, physical theatre, movement and dance within the frame of an African yet contemporary dance theatre performance piece.”

Tackling this highly intricate topic that embraces ancient beliefs, traditional values and customs – and a host of idioms and poetic imagery that are embedded in the fabric of the Zulu language – is a tall order.

But Hlatshwayo confesses to being naturally curious about spirituality, culture, religion and “subjects surrounding
the mystery behind our existence”.

“I was born and raised in Maphumulo, which is still my home. I grew up around Nguni cows and around people, including my mother’s family, who owned and herded those cows?– people who are still in touch with their
cultural identity and its associated lifestyle.

“I write for the Archival Platform website. I take on assignments that deal with stories of cultural heritage and its influence on our social, political and economic identity. As a performing artist too, my work is inspired by cultural identity – and the loss of cultural identity – amid today’s global technological developments.”

One of the specific challenges faced by the choreographer is translating the delicate complexities of a new work’s subject matter into dance.

“The process starts with identifying a subject that I feel most curious or most passionate about, then exploring it further through research-based tasks to find answers or whatever else I can discover,” says Hlatshwayo.

“I choose people to work with who challenge me or influence my way of thinking, so it’s not just me dictating how to throw arms and legs about.

“Movement is the body’s reaction to how one feels about something. When stylised, this then becomes translated into movement that can be shaped into dance steps – into a dance phrase – a section and eventually a performance piece.”

The complex process of transforming an idea into a piece of choreography that people can watch and interpret begins with individuals.

“My work is character based, so I identify characters, who feature within the process of researching the work, analysing the data, questioning our stand on the data found and then finding practical ways of bringing these characters to life.
“This process involves tasks that aim to bring motion to the characters through exercises such as movement sketching, improvisation and experimenting with the body as the tool to translate the idea into motion through physical movement.

“The beauty of isiZulu is that it gives us a lot of metaphors which – when literally and figuratively interpreted, manipulated, explored and questioned – have the potential to translate into beautiful imagery. The challenge is therefore to capture these images through set and styled movement, which we then perceive as choreography. It is a challenge, but we love just that.”

Dayimane! features five award-winning performers, including Hlatshwayo, Busi Deyi, Ngcebo Nzama, Phumzile Zondo and imbongi James Mbhele.

» Dayimane! will run at the Square Space Theatre at the Durban campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal from May 25 to 29.
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