ArtSpoken & Reviews

Dance Umbrella: Shift

Robyn Sassen
03/06/2011 18:19:01

My View by Robyn Sassen: Nyamza’s “Shift” plays with audience complacency while it balances precariously on moving grounds.

Mamela Nyamza has a hugely sophisticated ability to blend political focus and a reflection on gaps in the constitution with a capacity to entertain. In “Shift”, she brings a witty and not completely benign manipulation of audience into her performance palette. Like practitioners of the ilk of Steven Cohen or Robyn Orlin, she doesn’t allow you in the audience to complacently know what to anticipate; the work’s final gesture leaves the audience feeling self-consciously awkward and unnecessary as the performer installs herself, in a foetal position behind the grouped crowd. You turn, you stare at her for a long time, waiting for her to do something, before you mutely shuffle off, maybe feeling cheated. Maybe pondering why you feel cheated.

Audience manipulation is central to much of this piece which on paper engages with the lack of sexual equity in our constitution with a particular focus on sports. From the outset, the audience cannot rest and range itself comfortably in established seats. It is put in close proximity to the work. It must stand or sit on the floor. It must watch something evolve in semi-darkness and silence.

That something emerges from a space created of scaffolding with a screen pulled down far enough to reveal just a crack at its base in which a pair of running shoes are jiggled from long laces. Slowly the piece evolves, and through this sliver into the installation, you get to understand something about what is - or what might be - happening in this work and you laugh with relief when the bare feet suspended as though the body was hanging by the neck, find the ground, slip into a pair of silver sling-backs and then approach the fridge, installed in the back of the space. This basic pedestrianism gives you something to hold on to.

And with audience participation, the whole bare set is revealed; the dancer is friendly and bold in welcoming the audience into a game of ‘rounders’, or a situation, rather where the audience is collectively armed with a variety of balls and shuttle-cocks that it is instructed to throw at the dancer in unison. There’s an understated sense of danger in all of this and a child-like playfulness which sidestep definition, bringing complicity to the fray and a disturbing Marina Abramovic (considered the mother of performance art in the west) sense of objectifying the body of the dancer.

“Shift” is an exciting development in a new direction for Nyamza who is feasibly earning her stripes as a choreographer of freshness, courage and an uncanny ability to stretch the dance envelope where it has not been before, certainly not in South Africa. Like visual artist Lerato Shadi, Nyamza engages with a level of feminist discourse which offers a nod at the traditions spawned by creative culture in the west from the sixties and seventies, but it operates from within its own conceptual grammars. This is the kind of piece that will fuel and grow an audience for Nyamza, specific to her visual aesthetic, her philosophy and her ability to cock a snoot at dance convention.

“Shift” choreographed, directed and performed by Mamela Nyamza with directorial assistance from Hannah Loewenthal. Design by Craig Leo (set) and Burial (music). Wits Downstairs Theatre.

Robyn Sassen
011 023 8160
084 319 7844
Related Event:
Dance Umbrella Africa
Dates: Saturday, 21st March 2020 - Sunday, 29th March 2020
Related Venue:
Wits Theatre Complex, Braamfontein Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa