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

Mail & Guardian - - Dance - Zaza Hlalethwa

There are terms and con­di­tions, re­stric­tions and tricky power dy­namic to the con­cept of help. Help is not un­con­di­tional.

The sub­ject

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.

The space

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.

The artist

“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”

Help­ing hand:

Nelisiwe Xaba’s per­for­mance lec­ture Bang Bang Wo ex­am­ines the bag­gage that comes with help.

Photo: Can­dida Merwe

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