Work. What is it all for? Who reaps the rewards? Who claims our victories, what does it turns us into? It is these questions that season six at the Centre for the Less Good Idea in Maboneng attempts to probe in theatre form: “What does work look like on the stage, in a gallery space, on the streets, in our homes? What is to be said about the journeys we take in order to arrive at these places of work…?”
On Thursday night, co-curators Thiresh Govender and Sello Pesa presented these questions in the form of three interrelated shows: Pause by Kieron Jina, Unchini Wena! by Michael Micca Manganye and a joint performance by the Walls of Tools Ensemble, which included Napo Masheane, Andiswa Mpinda, Faniswa Yisa and Princess Tshabangu
Combining movement, costume, sound sculpture and dance — both his own and ritual dances projected through screens — Jina looked at ideas of worth, oppression, ancestry, colonialisation, sexuality, labour and liberation.
This was dance as spiritual and sociopolitical time travel, with his costume — a bulbous ensemble made of Seanamarena (with butcher’s boots at his feet), providing a strong metaphorical thrust for the ideas he sought to convey.
Over all this, Jina interlaced projected text with amplified voices, combining the two to create a multisensory examination of the toll of the migrant labour system, slavery and its contemporary equivalents as seen through the lenses of the current economic system. “Why are you working harder than your grandparents who broke their body to give you life?” was just one burning question we were left to ponder. Jina had a long list of contributors to the work, including Negiste Yesside Johnson (video), Yogin Sullaphen (sound design), Roman Handt (costume design) and Kgosi Motsoane (text).
In Unchini Wena!, Michael Micca Manganye used minimal tools — a trio of drums, pieces of cloth and his body — to tell a dynamic biographical tale, one starting with the loss of childhood innocence and ending with the burial of his parents. It seemed to speak to questions of “what the work turns us into” and expanded the idea of “journeys we take in order to arrive at these places of work” into something broader than the suggestion of a daily commute.
In the second session, the Wall of Tools ensemble seemed to bring the inseparable tensions between work, survival, exploitation, existence, spirituality, community, individualism and independence to a head, via a cacophonous chorus of noises that mimicked the constant buzz of the city and the subconscious anxieties of its inhabitants. The pressure built, with hustlers hustling, performers bracing and fumbling for their 15 minutes of shine, preachers shouting admonishments into the ether, butchers hacking away at a piece of bread, a boxer perhaps chasing his shadow and a chorus of “viiiiimba!” finding its own feet among bodies shuffling in hessian sacks. It ticked, tocked in arrhythmic confusion, then “bang!” — an extinction events of sorts.
Season six brings together the dramaturgical and directorial talents of Nhlanhla Mahlangu, Phala Ookeditse Phala, William Kentridge (the centre’s founder), Bronwyn lace and many more contributors. It runs until Sunday October 27.
For more information, visit The Centre for the Less Good Idea.