Xaba packs, and unpacks, help
The dancer has first-hand experience of what well-meaning assistance often demands from the recipient making a compelling case for a new show
There are terms and conditions, restrictions and tricky power dynamic to the concept of help. Help is not unconditional.
As the recipient of a scholarship to study at the Johannesburg Dance Foundation and then at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in London, and having exhibited in a number of group and solo performances, Nelisiwe Xaba is no stranger to the concept of help. Last month her performance lecture, Bang Bang Wo, was hosted at the Centre for the Less Good Idea in Johannesburg. Bang Bang Wo, as a direct translation from Mandarin, means help, and her performance explored the politics and monkey business that comes with help.
It’s Saturday night. I enter the outdoor space of Arts on Main in search of the centre. Once in the yard, I walk into a building, down a dimly lit and lonely hallway and turn left to reach my destination.
The silence is replaced with soft chatter coming from the scattered crowd, sitting on barrels around the wooden tables placed outside the centre.
It looks like an Instagram post, made by an influencer, at a night market where all the cool kids go to unwind on a Thursday night. The setting is just right for a mix of South Africa’s middle and upper classes, the help givers, who make up Xaba’s audience.
I make my way across the space to the corner of the courtyard where most of the crowd is congregating and settle about two metres away from the A4 page-size sign, The Centre for the Less Good Idea.
I pick a barrel to sit on and scan the crowd. There are couples, groups of friends and the occasional loners, whose lack of a companion makes them as impatient as I am for the show to start. We still have 15 minutes before we are let into the space.
At exactly 8pm, doors are opened and we line up to be greeted by Xaba. She hands each of us small parcels that contain seeds and a mini Marie biscuit.
A repetitive audio of a voice chanting in Mandarin admits us into the space. Apart from the repetition of the term “bang bang wo”, the meaning is incomprehensible for those unfamiliar with Mandarin.
White walls and a high ceiling enclose us as we find our seats in the well-lit room. The space is intimate but generous in the sense that the small stage takes up a third of the room but there is enough room for the audience of about 60 people to sit comfortably.
I wonder how coincidental the venue choice was, seeing that William Kentridge established it for creatives’ ideas to flourish without the confines imposed by funders.
“Don’t click on Facebook, really be active. Facebook is not toyi-toying.
That toyi-toying is just a click button.
It’s lazy, if you ask me”
Nelisiwe Xaba’s performance lecture Bang Bang Wo examines the baggage that comes with help.
Photo: Candida Merwe