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Wednesday, 04 July 2012 11:29

Opera for fools: not everyone’s cup of tea

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Emily Corke:  To some, Opera for Fools was an hour and a half long show of “traditional African dance forms, with a contemporary approach from modern, ballet and Asian forms such as Tai Chi, Martial Art and other traditional dances”. For others it was an uncomfortable hour where they understood next to nothing and watched foot tapping and silent screams. For others it was unbearable enough to walk out of the venue clanking on their way down the scaffolding. For many it just was not their cup of tea.

 Vincent Mantsoe’s Opera for Fools came as a shock for anyone who did not understand anything about the dance form or the concept behind the tapping and stamping. The show began on the wrong foot by starting late; the audience clapped them on to hurry up the show after standing in the long queue for over 20 minutes. They clapped only one more time at the end of the play or rather FOR the end of the play. Well, those who remained anyway. One audience member even laughed in delight.

The opening of the show was effective with evocative lighting and music. However the long-winded intro began a long-winded, uncomfortable play. The evocative, random and busy movements were as Mantsoe intended them to be but not to the delight of the audience who began leaving in the first 20 minutes of the show. Mantsoe is reluctant to give his form of dance a name because there was just so many styles incorporated. For many that was the problem.

The hour and a half show orchestrates itself around the complex nature of shebeens. The movements aimed to show deprivation and discrimination.

“I am an artist, who creates different points of view based on a cultural perspective and self-preservation within the global political arena and agenda of current times,” said Mantsoe in the National Arts Festival Programme synopsis of the show.

The show had elements of gender violence which were very effective. I couldn’t help but feel that there was too much going on at once and thrown in the already unimpressed audiences face. If Mantsoe wanted his audiences to feel uncomfortable, then he was successful. The sexual and violent dances had some audience members clanking down the steps in no time at all.

The criticism is not to say that it was a poorly executed show, in fact the sweat that was pouring from the faces of the male dancers showed the opposite.  The complicated footwork and movements were most certainly impressive but they were too much for too long and very difficult to grasp. The dancers themselves, from both France (where Mantsoe is based) and South Africa, were very fit and never once lost focus during the production. The soundtrack was also impressive with music from "Mbaxanga, Kwela (Pennywhistle jive), Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Simon Mahlatini and Mahotella Queens, Johnny Clegg, Brenda Fassie, Mzwake Mbule, Sello ‘Chicco' Twala, Stimela" and many others. Silences were also used effectively but they only fueled to the audience’s discomfort.

Opera for Fools is not a terrible show and it is an impressive work showing many different cultures. It was all sweat for the dancers but with no reward from the audience. A word of warning: it is uncomfortable, it is long, it is strange and it most definitely is not everyone’s cup of tea.

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