Dip­ping into mem­o­ries with mu­sic

The Star Early Edition - - TONIGHT STAGE - DIANE DE BEER

THE name of the show, says artis­tic di­rec­tor James Ng­cobo, re­minds him of a jazz im­prov… Ketekang. A friend sug­gested this Se­pedi word for “cel­e­brate”.

“It sounded right,” says Ng­cobo, who is un­veil­ing a new mu­si­cal on Fri­day as The Mar­ket’s cel­e­bra­tory pro­duc­tion of 20 years of democ­racy.

He wanted some­thing that reached even wider and with the support of the US Em­bassy de­vised and di­rects Ketekang, in hon­our and mem­ory of peo­ple who had to live through ar­ti­fi­cial seg­re­ga­tion here and in the US.

“This is not a show laden with mean­ing,” says the di­rec­tor. “We’re pick­ing up mo­ments, avoid­ing bit­ter­ness, but there will be re­minders for those who re­mem­ber the times,” he ex­plains. “It’s all gone to­gether in the melt­ing pot.”

It’s some­thing he feels com­fort­able with, telling sto­ries through po­etry, prose, (pieces by South African and Amer­i­can po­ets and play­wrights), mu­sic and dance.

“We’re cel­e­brat­ing 20 years of democ­racy and the US is look­ing back at 50 years of the civil rights move­ment,” he notes.

There was both jux­ta­po­si­tion and dove­tail­ing in bring­ing th­ese two con­ti­nents and th­ese sto­ries to­gether.

“There are so many sim­i­lar­i­ties that we wanted to present to an au­di­ence,” ex­plains Ng­cobo, who em­pha­sises the re­spon­si­bil­ity that comes with free­dom.

Mu­si­cals at the Mar­ket are another of Ng­cobo’s aims, so this is a step in that di­rec­tion. But he stresses, this is cel­e­bra­tory, not ed­u­ca­tional. It’s an end-of-year show and while there is re­flec­tion in­volved, he wants peo­ple to bathe in nostal­gia while oth­ers might gain in­sight.

Book-end­ing his year as artis­tic di­rec­tor of The Mar­ket with first Col­ored Mu­seum at the start of the year and now Ketekang, he again opts for a young cast with singers, ac­tors and dancers rep­re­sent­ing mostly the youth. He has also used some writ­ing by the young cast and a piece from play­wright/ac­tor Om­phile Mo­lusi’s It­soseng to re­flect this new gen­er­a­tion of voices. The mu­sic echoes some of the writ­ing, but Ng­cobo hasn’t laboured the time frames.

“It’s not a his­tory les­son,” it’s about dip­ping in and out of mo­ments,” he says. “We’re shar­ing a story of eman­ci­pa­tion and of a peo­ple who have com­plete own­er­ship of a story.”

Tak­ing the ’80s, for ex­am­ple, it is the com­plete chaos in this coun­try that dom­i­nates that pe­riod, and he does this with sound as the dancers an­nounce their in­ten­tions in rhythms any­one who lived through that time will recog­nise. There are many ways he sig­nals spe­cific iconic mo­ments of the strug­gle, the op­pres­sion and, more than any­thing, the pain.

“Th­ese were sounds of anger,” says Ng­cobo and when step­ping into that mo­ment, the emo­tional im­pact is im­me­di­ate. “It was the end of in­no­cence,” he re­minds us and as he runs through this shared mem­ory bank, au­di­ences will re­mem­ber and re­flect on times long gone. It is Ng­cobo’s way of re­call­ing the past, re­mind­ing us what we left be­hind and why we never want to go back there, while un­der­lin­ing all the time why free­dom should be nour­ished and nur­tured.

“It’s about us­ing a the­atre lan­guage to paint this par­tic­u­lar ta­pes­try,” he con­cludes.

As is his wont, he brings a band of col­lab­o­ra­tors on board in­clud­ing mu­si­cal di­rec­tor Tshepo Mn­goma and Vuyani Dance The­atre’s Luyanda Sidiya (named Young Artist 2015) as chore­og­ra­pher with the company dancers.

Ng­cobo uses mu­sic tra­di­tion­ally sung dur­ing the tough­est years in our coun­try, and lends from Otis Red­ding, Donny Hath­away, Si­bongile Khu­malo, Cai­phus Se­menya and the list goes on.

From a chore­o­graphic per­spec­tive, Sidiya wanted to cel­e­brate our rich his­tory with move­ment. “James is just a vi­sion­ary,” he says. He will get the de­tails of a par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in time, what the di­rec­tor wants from an emo­tional point and move from there.

“It’s a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me and the dancers,” he ac­knowl­edges as he is chal­lenged by a piece that doesn’t rely only on dance.

“It’s about in­ter­pret­ing some­one else’s story,” he says. Add to that that most of the dancers are too young to know much about that par­tic­u­lar past and he has to make sure “they can slip into that mo­ment to bring the emo­tions truth­fully,” he says.

But one of this chore­og­ra­pher’s strengths is the emo­tional story that is at­tached to the mean­ing and the move­ment.

“We watched videos on the stone throw­ing, the crazi­ness of that time,” he says. “It’s about ar­tic­u­lat­ing the words in another way.”

How do you dance to Mbeki’s iconic I Am an African? But while that might be a puz­zle to many, Sidiya feels it in his bones.

“You find the truth of what is be­ing said and trans­late it into move­ment,” he ac­knowl­edges. But it’s also about los­ing egos and not be­ing too pre­cious about your work. That’s the se­cret of col­lab­o­ra­tion, he be­lieves.

So be pre­pared to go on this emo­tional mu­si­cal ride which is filled with sad­ness, hu­mour, laugh­ter, mem­o­ries, sto­ries and a night of kick­ing back and al­low­ing the glo­ri­ous per­form­ers to paint pic­tures.

With reg­u­lar co­hort, set de­signer Nadya Co­hen cre­at­ing the land­scape, singers and ac­tors Nokukhanya Dlamini, Aubrey Poo, Caro­line Bo­role, Dionne Song, Lebo Toko, Lesedi Job, Sonia Radebe, Vuyelwa Maluleke, the dancers and an amaz­ing group of mu­si­cians will tickle all the senses.

Ketekang plays at The John Kani The­atre at the Mar­ket un­til De­cem­ber 14 with per­for­mance times: Tues­days to Satur­days at 8pm and Sun­days at 3pm.


SOUND­ING THE TIMES: The Vuyani Dance The­atre dancers evoke the chaotic 1980’s in Ketekang.

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