Mamela Nyamza’s latest offering at the Dance Umbrella is dark, sublime and visceral. Stepping out in a long tight black dress with white taffeta at the bottom of it, I wondered how she would dance in this attire.
The show began whilst audiences were sweeping in with drinks in hands; a gospel song (the ones usually played in black churches) blared from the speakers and Nyamza came dancing down the aisle on the left side of the stage. She was not dancing in leaps or colourfully like one would expect a ballerina or contemporary dancer to, but she was graceful and effortless in the natural demeanour of dancing that most black people endowed with the gift of rhythm embody. On the right side of the stage, in the isle, dancing in oscillation with Nyamza was a tall slender man; he complimented her black and white dress with a suit with the same colours. Audiences had to swerve right and left as so not to collide with the dancers, some audience members danced to their seat and like experienced shebeen dancers did not spill a drop of their drinks as they did so.
Once the audience was settled and the drapes of the entrance closed, the duo moved onto the stage moving in unison; an audience member tapped me on the shoulder and showed me on a piece of white paper which verse the song playing was on. I had initially thought these papers were programmes or information on the dance piece, I picked it up and it was written in isiXhosa- not that difficult for me, regarding that I am Zulu, but I did not want to read and sing along because I was scared I would miss a beat or a moment on stage. Some audience members sang and clapped along as the duo on stage danced to a colourful, rainbow painted bench.
The music stopped once they reached the bench, they sat in still silence, their outfits a stark contrast to the colourful bench, the silence lingered, the dancers hardly moved; their faces impressions of boredom and pondering. An audience member yawned, heavy breathing could be heard from others; was this the stifling boredom the dancers wanted to imbue onto their audience, the drone of church services? I rubbed my eyes- I had just come from watching a very long film and so my capacity to focus was lessened. I panned the audience, they were drinking, whispering to each other, glancing at the dancers to see if they would move but nothing. I thought maybe they had forgotten to dance or there was a technical glitch- maybe a song was supposed to be playing and it wasn’t.
Suddenly the duo simultaneously got off the bench and alternated their positions, the bench swayed up and down like a see-saw, they kept doing this, going faster and faster until they were exhausted and returned to their original positions, balancing the see-saw. This routine was repeated over and over again. The man gave a sweaty Mamela a handkerchief, she shyly patted herself dry starting with the face and then looked away like one does when they have had way too many rounds of sex with a person they should have not.
The man, satisfied, distances himself from Nyamza, he slides off to the far right of the bench, catapulting Mamela in the air, she tries to bring the bench down with her weight but her efforts are futile. She reluctantly slides to his side, at this the man is mad and pushes her off the bright bench, she disappointingly crawls to the centre of the stage and remains on all fours. The man proudly gets off the bench, walks to her, admires her physique, takes off his shoes and then her shoes. He then astonishes the audience by stepping on Mamela’s back, stands on top of her and whips out a Bible, his sermon begins; he shouts and chants like television charismatic pastors whilst bouncing up and down on her back. Nyamza seems to be in pain but she repeats every single line the pastor shouts out. Three verses are repeated over and over again whilst euphemisms of sex are portrayed in their physical positions.
In the end the pastor gives Nyamza pieces of clothing, a black lapel and a white phallic hat, that affirm her position and ranking in the church. Church goers will know of this signifiers of church identity and how they differ from church to church. All her hard work: being bent, broken and discarded for these pieces of affirmation and confirmation.
The pastor lies down, a symbolism of his death, and Nyamza covers him with the colourful bench, she then starts gyrating over him, pulls up her black dress, which is drenched in sweat and traces the outlines of her lean, masculine body; in the centre of her legs is a black bible with red pages. She spreads her long legs adorned with racy fish net stockings, keeping the bible in place with her one hand and starts paging faster and faster. Her head swivels, her eyes pop out and roam the faces of the audience members. “This shit never ends” she states audibly but not shouting while paging through the bible- a few audience members audibly affirm her assertion. Eventually she reaches the end of the Bible, an upbeat gospel song begins and starts dancing as if she in a Babes Wodumo music video, the bible intact between her legs; she gyrates lavisioucly across the stage. The man dead, the Bible in her groin area; Nyamza’s jubilation is exponential.
De-Apart-Hate is a layered and complex piece, stark and overt about all things covert in the rainbow nation, it highlights the position of the oppressed which is almost always the black womxn. The oppressor: the man and the instrument of the white oppressor, the law and religion. The scales will never be in the favour of the woman and the system will always find ways to fuck women in various ways whilst requesting that they supress their freedoms especially their sexual freedoms and not extend to them to the same sex.
A piece on critiquing a judgmental society, fostered on gender inequalities founded on European concept of the law and religion; this was a sermon I was glad I did not have miss.
Image Source: https://capetownfringe.co.za/events/de-apart-hate/