Crying in public; bathed in invincible colour

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TEARFUL yet present: Crying in Public by Banele Khoza. Photograph courtesy Lizamore & Associates.

When first you access these boldly rendered works by Banele Khoza, you might think you know what the artist is saying. And you might be tempted to wave a dismissive hand at the perceived social problems of a young man. Problems of loneliness and rejection, sex and confidence. But the more you look, the less you see and the more the mysterious and haunting Crying in Public pieces seem to predominate this exhibition offering an autobiographical reflection that might reach you in a place much deeper that you would allow at the best of times.

Part of the gallery’s mentorship programme, Khoza, who is fast becoming a name in the professional art world, was mentored by Colbert Mashile in this exhibition. He showed work last year at the Pretoria Art Museum, and something extraordinary is clearly cooking in this artist’s sense of possibility, his confidence and the muscularity of his approach. Much more than crass comments on emotional or physical states of being, the works in Lonely Nights burst with painterly audacity.

There’s scant reference to the filigree that featured in Khoza’s earlier show. But once you begin to embrace the paintings in this exhibition, you hardly miss that incisive complex linearity. Khoza demonstrates a beautiful understanding of the interface of colour and chance in a way that will touch you to the core.

The exhibition is peppered with small scale canvases all titled Crying in Public and numbered individually. By and large they’re abstract, or somewhere between abstraction and gestural self-portraiture. And in their blasts of colour or mark, be it Venetian yellow or a mild pink, be it black or blue and white, something is articulated here about how we cover up in the face of society, about how we hide our emotions or sob where we think we’re invisible. It’s not explicit, but it is sophisticated and discreet.

The works are not completely or consistently solemn, however: there’s a touch of Robert Hodgins in the numinous shapes conjured by Khoza’s paintbrush, and conjoined with the comments that shriek out loud and in bold type of the artist’s lonely nights from “I have a girlfriend” to “Fuck me”, to a commentary on how in an age of social media, you might be focused on counting likes and pretending to be working, but that it’s all a haze of pretense. The works are massaged into life with a self-deprecating humour, and an exuberant use of text all over some of them.

But it is their overall freshness that grabs you by the eye and infiltrates your whole being. Khoza works largely with a palette tinted into conventional pastel shades. His brush marks are generous and luscious and he skirts with boldness around the notion of abstraction, yielding pieces that are delightful and visually enticing.

  • Lonely Nights by Banele Khoza is at Lizamore and Associates gallery in Parkwood until March 30. Call 011 880 8802 or visit lizamore.co.za

Me and my jazz guitar on the brink of hell

 

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Beginning like a mashup of Oskar’s shenanigans in Günter Grass’s Tin Drum and the gently crass lyrics of 1940s band Spike Jones and the City Slickers, the autobiography of Berlin-born jazz guitarist Coco Schumann reflects prosaic insight into the European Holocaust. It gives life to the adage that when the world is on fire, all you must do is carry on carrying on.

The book is a translation – it was originally published in 1997 in German and is translated into English here by John Howard – and it is written not by a writer, but by the man who lived through this historical kaleidoscope, and for this reason, it is fairly ordinary read. The dramatic context in which Schumann grew and played music is allowed to bubble on its own historical momentum rather than through the craft of description.

With each chapter named in honour of a jazz standard: How High the Moon, Summertime, Razzle Dazzle and Autumn Leaves, Schumann’s realisation of the stigma of his Jewish identity, his assignation to Auschwitz and his arrival at Theresienstadt where he was successful in starting his band, the Ghetto Swingers, are tucked away between the interstices of the music.

While Schumann’s writing style is understated and peppered with details of domesticity, living as we are, two generations from the reality of the Holocaust, something is lost in the placing of Michael H Kater’s informative afterword as an afterword.

The son of a Jewish woman and an Aryan man, Schumann was according to Jewish tradition, Jewish. According to Nazi tradition, he was not a full Jew, but Jewish enough to be killed. Having found his “grandmother” of a guitar, Schumann played music through arguably one of modern Europe’s most hateful periods, and not only did he live to tell the tale, but he played music through the war, and still does.

From an explanation of his hated Jewish identity to the horror of Kristallnacht, his entry into Theresienstadt, a ghetto moulded by the Nazis for PR, to his meeting the notorious Josef Mengele at the doors of Auschwitz, Schumann’s life story describes many circles of dreams awakening, being crushed and brought to life again. Ultimately, it is a satisfying read offering strong insight into the horrors of war, but more significantly, the fierce determination to keep one’s dreams flourishing.

  • The Ghetto Swinger: A Berlin Jazz-Legend Remembers by Coco Schumann is published by Doppelhaus Press Los Angeles (2016).

Haunted by Prettina

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SEVENTY per cent pretty: Klara van Wyk is Prettina. Photograph by Lauren Buckle.

BLENDING TENDERNESS WITH bravado, prickliness with utter vulnerability, Klara van Wyk has crafted a character which warrants status as the poster girl of contemporary high school bullying. Her work, You Suck and Other Inescapable Truths is a piece of advocacy theatre which stands its own ground in a regular theatre, but which will haunt you and make you remember bruises that you inflicted as a child – and/or the bruises and scars that were inflicted on you during those very same years. Beautifully constructed and performed with the clownish acumen you might have seen in van Wyk’s representation of Chalk Girl in collaboration with Jemma Kahn some years ago, this is one of those pieces that irrevocably is the voice of an era.

Prettina considers herself almost material for the ‘A’ group. She believes she’s 70% pretty and nearly there in terms of the popular set of the high school which she attends. Granted, she’s awkward in some ways. And she has a strict mom and she’s not really sure of the value of her Afrikaans heritage, other than as a stumbling block. But she knows the ropes of hip-hop, is an expert in the odd cultural skill of Eisteddfod, and can sing. And furthermore, she can see through the flaws of the class queens with ease, and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be one of them.

Until she finds out why, that is. Rendered with the kind of dead-pan irony that evokes Nathaniël’s storytelling, the work is at once utterly breath-takingly hilarious and totally tragic. You want to embrace Prettina and tell her that there is so much more out there in the world, and yet, you cannot help roaring with (albeit utterly empathetic) laughter at her social faux pas. And the reason for this is as simple as it is complicated: You, too, are Prettina. Or you have been shades of her in your own way. And that’s true, whether or not you like to admit it, an inescapable fact which ramps up your laughter even more – even if it serves to camouflage old tears of rage and injustice.

There’s a deeper thread underlying the work, however, and structurally, this is supported with a level of brilliance that runs through it like a thread of quicksilver. It has to do with a mouse. And that mouse is present from the very first line in the script, as the lights come up, infused with prescience, like in a Greek tragedy. Constructed with a denouement that will give you goose bumps and make your hair stand on end, You Suck doesn’t pander to an audience. It is an unrelenting piece of potency which holds up the phenomenon of social media bullying to a very frightening mirror: this is the flailing voice of youth in our contemporary times. And it’s weeping, silently. Whatever else You Suck does, it will make you sit up and take notice – particularly if there are young children in your life.

  • You Suck and Other Inescapable Truths is written by Klara van Wyk and directed by Francesco Nassimbeni. Featuring design by Francesco Nassimbeni (set) and Richard de Jager (costumes), it is performed by Klara van Wyk, on demand at Western Cape schools. It will also enjoy a commercial run at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, June 29-July 9. Contact klara@gmail.com

Same differences, different sameness and the glory of being seven

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SAGE advice of a wise mommy: Megan van Wyk and Kirsty Marillier see the other side of freckles. Photograph courtesy National Children’s Theatre

There’s an almost audible click, that the audience can hear, when performers in a show collaborate with a generous and real spirit of enthusiasm. And there’s almost an audible click when a cast sings with a production, not only in the literal sense, but also because they really get it. The rarity of both these things happening in a production takes your breath away because it is flawless: Freckleface Strawberry The Musical is a simple tale about bullying and friendship which is told with a deft directness, a sparkly sense of self and a true spirit of collaboration, enabling everyone on the creative team to give of their very best.

Led by Kirsty Marillier, who is cast so perfectly, she has the whole stage in her hand from the get go, this delicious little tale of the horrors and pleasures of being different takes you immediately into the rough and tumble of a seven-year-old context. It’s a story of bicycle riding and the tooth fairy, of gentle malice born of observation that is enabled to grow into something wretched, and of dreams that little boys and girls are allowed to have. While it is a little heavy handed on how the idea of marriage and babies represents unequivocal success, everything else about this autobiographical tale rings real, and the work never teeters into utter saccharine.

We’re all a little bit of a Freckleface, with our personal idiosyncrasies and our silent envy of other people’s perfections. This play very beautifully embraces those insecurities which are part of the human condition, with the interlocked narratives of eight children and a baby brother who wears a colander (Brandon Loelly), sparked into life with dreams and nightmares, the advice of a wise mommy and the part time sanctuary of an itchy woollen mask. It’s about vocalised ambitions to be the best and unspoken ones about fearing that you’re never good enough, and conjoined with its lyrics and its choreography, this production fits with as satisfying a ‘click’ as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

And everyone, literally everyone – Teekay Baloyi, Megan van Wyk, Dihan Schoeman, Caitlyn Thomson, Senzo Radedbe, Brandon Loelly and Megan Rigby – simply glows in this work. The crowning skill remains in the hand of director, Francois Theron because no one shines brighter than anyone else, and the flow of the story is delicate and robust enough to bring its message across. While the eponymous little redhead remains at the front and centre of the tale, she remains one of the kids in the best possible way. This rendition of the play – it was performed at this theatre in 2014 – will leave you with a different understanding of your own differences, but also with an awareness that you’ve just witnessed something deliciously perfect.

  • Freckleface Strawberry The Musical is written by Julianne Moore and directed by Francois Theron. Featuring design by Stan Knight (set), Rowan Bakker (musical supervision), Shelley Adriaanzen (original choreography), Phillida Le Roux (staging), Sarah Roberts (costumes) and Jane Gosnell (lighting), it is performed by Teekay Baloyi, Brandon Loelly, Kirsty Marillier, Dihan Schoeman, Caitlyn Thomson, Senzo Radebe, Megan Rigby and Megan van Wyk, it is at the National Children’s Theatre in Parktown, until April 13. Call 011 484 1584 or visit nationalchildrenstheatre.org.za/

How to put on that tutu and dance, in spite of everything

By Assent Menwe

  • Assent Menwe is a third year fine arts student at the University of Johannesburg. She took part in the arts writing course facilitated by Robyn Sassen.
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PAINTING and dance, courage and tutus: Tamara Osso. Photograph courtesy http://www.thatspace.co.za

TAMARA OSSO’S NEW work, Tutu, which debuted at the 29th Dance Umbrella earlier this month, is backed by a tale of escaping and reorganising social, cultural and personal structures and a focus on the complexity of the ease or difficulty with which the body moves. Osso spoke to My View about painting and dance, tutus and tradition, paralysis and movement earlier this month prior to the performance of her work at the Nunnery.

The work, choreographed by Shanell Winlock-Pailman and Laura Cameron is directed by Osso. It comprises four danced characters: the aloof woman, the busy lady, the man who doesn’t want to be seen and the unstable man. It is performed by Winlock-Painlman and Cameron as well as Nathan Botha and Kgotsofeleng Moshe.

Osso’s inspiration to write the story behind this piece came from her own practise in visual art and her love for movement: in addition to her dance credentials – she learnt classical ballet as a child and has been associated with several contemporary dance companies in South Africa, including Ballet Theatre Afrikan, Free Flight Dance Company, La Rosa Spanish Company and Moving Into Dance Mophatong – she graduated with a Fine Arts degree from Wits University in 2014. Blending her visual art with her dance-based endeavours, Osso is intent on creating a dance language which is fresh and unique.

Expressing frustration with her ideas that have often been forced to leap beyond the boundaries of being paintings, she says that some of her paintings were compromised because she felt an urgent need to express herself through bodily movement as well as with paint on canvas.

But this frustration and sense of urgency to use as much of her energy as possible in creating her work, rests also on her personal circumstances. The mother of a young boy with hemiplegia which is a condition that causes one side of the body to be paralysed, Osso focused Tutu specifically around not being able to move properly. Her gesture reaches from the personal into the universal: We can all relate to feeling physically limited or stuck; effectively our sense of stability in the world is one of the powerful factors that makes us relate to ourselves and how we experience life.

Under Osso’s directorial hand, Tutu describes how we all move differently; some faster and more slowly, based on our personal vulnerability.

Mariachi and his Song of Love, Life, Death

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BELTING it out: The irrepressible James Cairns is El Blanco. Photograph courtesy The Luvvie.

 

ARMED WITH A big tummy and a tiny ukulele, James Cairns embodies a whole community of Mexicans in this fabulous piece of theatre, which is a rich and rambunctious amalgamation of everything from traditional Mexican narrative to the demonic beast of copywriting, some colourful fantasy and a bit of radio-style drama thrown in between. It’s swift and funny, sophisticated and self-deprecating and successfully calls upon the devil and God in one voice.

Put together by a highly skilled team of writers, designers and performers, El Blanco examines the path of a pale and freckled Mariachi and how he fares in a dark-skinned world of bias, ancient Egyptian obsidian stones and one in which he needs to whore out his song-writing skills in order to pay the rent. It’s a skilful and heady mix of the past and the potential future, with romance and madness, sadness and lies all cobbled together in a complex series of stories within stories.

And while Cairns has the gift of being able to twist his tongue and his persona into a myriad of different characters all at once, at times, you lose the tiny nuances of the tale, because there are so many voices present in it.  You don’t however, lose the thread of the work, which is like stepping into a delicious and irrevocably rich slice out of one of Gabriel García Marques’s novels, with all its idiosyncrasies, hairpin twists in story lines, thick and layered detail and gesture to make you look. And laugh. And forget yourself.

More than that, Cairns’s stage persona brings a whiff of Danny Kaye, a snort of Spike Jones and the City Slickers and a soupçon of BBC radio’s airs and graces from the 1970s. If you loved his performance opposite Taryn Bennett in The Snow Goose, staged recently in this theatre, you will be completely smitten by this wildly creative monodrama, which vies with loose and totally fabulous abandon between being immensely proper, and totally off the wall, with the flick of an eyebrow.

The rudimentary nature of the work’s set plays into the directness of the work and its uncontrived charm. But the balance of bare necessities and immense skill makes this a work you just don’t want to miss.

  • El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi is written by Gwydion Beynon and directed by Jenine Collocott. It features design by João Orecchia (sound), Jenine Collocott (set) and Jemma Kahn (costumes) and is performed by James Cairns at Auto and General Theatre on the Square until April 8. Call 011 883-8606 or visit theatreonthesquare.co.za

What to do when your mother-in-law dishes up

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THE mystique of kosher: Chantal Stanfield plays herself in From Koe’siestes to Kneidlach. Photograph courtesy Theatre on the Square.

YOU KNOW THE story from the moment you look at the publicity images for this play. A bride and groom stand next to one another. He wears a yarmulke. She’s Coloured. The rest feels like it will be a miasma of stereotypes and schlock that will draws gusts of sometimes deeply uncomfortable laughter of recognition from the belly of a community fraught with levels of bias and idiosyncrasy. It’s about tradition. And South African Jews. And Coloureds. And by implication, you think it will be peppered with the blandness of well trodden cliché, references to cultural cuisine and low key inside jokes. But in making all these assumptions, you don’t anticipate the feisty, fresh and searing energy that Chantal Stanfield, the performer and writer of this direct and autobiographical piece brings.

Yes, it’s a tale of marriage across local cultures and one in which a wide-eyed Stanfield is exposed to the bizarre and unexplainable litanies of ritual in the practice of traditional orthodox Jewry, when she meets, falls in love with, and marries muso RJ Benjamin. It’s written with a frisky sense of wonder, and while it niftily skirts issues from crude racism to the complexity of benign hypocrisy, it makes for tight and immensely watchable theatre.

Stanfield, a Sewende Laan actress who we saw in Johannesburg in Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author a couple of years ago, is one of those performers who you instantly fall in love with: she’s got a sense of presence that is easy on the eye and she fits comfortably in her own skin, rendering her first person narrative in this true story alternatively funny, deeply empathetic and critical almost to the point of cruelty, which heightens the hilarity stakes considerably and forces the whole business from becoming self-indulgent. The work is extremely polished, it’s exactly the right length and resonates with a slick inner rhythm that keeps you focused but never allows the piece to degenerate into the soft schlock that you may anticipate. It’s also a tightly pared down production, in design and set: all the frills and trimmings are described in a beautifully structured text, rich with nuance and wit.

From Koe’siestes to Kneidlach is a tale of uniqueness and curiosity blending the Malay doughnut with the East-European dumpling in such a way that it splays open the complex give and take between everything from Yiddish to Gayle, Muslim antipathies to kugel shallowness. It takes no prisoners in reflecting on the whims and idiosyncrasies of both sides of the wedding, and never stoops to being self-consciously romantic. It’s a love affair cast among the vagaries of Twitter, over protective mothering and culinary and other kinds of bias and is a joy from beginning to end.

  • From Koe’siestes to Kneidlach is written by Chantal Stanfield and directed by Megan Furniss. Featuring music arranged by Paul Choritz, it is performed by Chantal Stanfield at the Auto and General Theatre on the Square in Sandton until March 18. Visit theatreonthesquare.co.za or call 011 883 8606