drucken Bookmark and Share

by Jay Pather

Caught up in Multiply-Layered Skirts or What’s a Stripper Doing in Julius Caesar ?

The title refers to a comment by a theatre critic of my production Qaphela Caesar! at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. While calling it a “magnificent reflection of power” she wrote:

you feel assaulted by dance that is literary and obscure … hampered by an excess of metaphors, references and symbols, so many, it gets caught in its own multiply-layered skirts (Sassen 2012)[1].

This paper explores what “literary” dance might look like bringing attention to forms of choreography and theatre making that are akin to ways of writing an article, a book or a research paper. The critic’s comment points to the hazards of dense, research-heavy theatrical productions and serves as a good prompt to investigate why and how such productions have emerged, and what their place in the field of research might be.   

Theatre and dance criticism in this country is rare, and in many respects these art forms are uninterrogated beyond a simple judgement of whether an audience may or may not like a production. It is not my intention to challenge much of that. Sassen’s comment, though, serves as an ironic starting point to get to the bottom of my admittedly dense, multi-layered and in many instances obscure work, and to probe its referencing, its forms and its subjects. My intention is also to unpick the work in the quest for something that contributes to the field of literary dance in a substantial way—be it at the intersection of media, the various sites of the works, the perpetual interplay between tradition and modernity, or the collaborative processes of research and creation. The interplay between the works’ forms and content, derived in the main from contemporary South African society, is an exercise in disruption, fragmentation, impressionistic collage and unresolved conclusions. I subtitled Qaphela Caesar!, which Sassen critiques above, a multi-media massacre of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for good reason.

I examine three productions (Body of Evidence, Qaphela Caesar! and rite) and consider this “hybrid” approach to research in theatre making—how a single performative moment can be imbued with multiple influences, references and points of entry and exit to grapple with a single question: how does the production serve as a vehicle for meeting complexity with complexity and sometimes opacity? The context and subject of these mixed media productions—memory and apartheid, truth and reconciliation, the spillages, slippages, overflows of emotion, the attempts at making meaning and the desire for reconstruction—lead me to consider form in our society, its multiple manifestations, its colonial roots and its rhizome-like appearance. The preponderance of deconstructed and reassembled political formations in contemporary South Africa, starting with the nation’s tenuous grasp on human rights and its politics (the improvised relationship between the socialist origins of the ruling party and late capitalism is an example), forces me to think of a layered and complex matrix in considering both the kinetic and the still body as it navigates such assaults on its resilient yet fragile frame. In art making, one impulse in the face of such a conundrum may be to weed out, clean up, reduce and essentialize. My dominant impulse is to overlay and overflow, as well as riff into ironic self-consciousness, in a sometimes anarchic manner, but with an attempt to embody the disruption and rupture that is so visible in our society’s fabric. And it is not always palatable, nor easy to digest.

In considering the three productions, I focus on a dominant choreographic research approach in each.

1. Embodiment and collaborative research in Body of Evidence
In the early 1990s, Dr Leonard Lehrer, a forensic scientist at the University of Cape Town, approached me with some alarming findings as a result of examining bodies that had met their end through violent means in the Eastern Cape Province. The most striking finding was the fact that for every one death as a result of political violence , there were seven deaths of women as a result of domestic violence, killed by someone they knew (a conclusion based on the prevalence of blunt instruments, grabbed in rage — murders committed without a strategic motive).

Fifteen years later, as the prevalence of such violence grew, I wanted to focus on structural violence from a personal point of view. I probed the containment of violence in one’s body as a result of continued and pervasive economic, physical and psychological abnegation, despite  external  political transformation.

In the workshop process, with eleven performers from the Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre, based in Durban and ranging in age from 22 to 72, I found processes of working that examined the body as a filing cabinet of memory. Through a series of workshop performance rituals that developed a safety net for mining personal experiences, I journeyed with the dancers into improvisations and compositions around pain, affect, structural violence, abnegation and the body’s kinetic and vocal responses.

The production foregrounded my interest in collaborative choreography that had developed over many years. The singular choreographic voice had proven to be reductive and simplistic, so I had looked for ways in which choreography could emerge as a result of a group process, where individual dancers had a strong hand in the development of the final work. This manner of working has its precedent in workshop theatre practices in South Africa. So, while my references were the subject of memory, structural and interpersonal violence; my field of research was grounded in the dancers and the immediacy of daily experience. At the outset a code of ethics was established from intense discussions which covered individual volition and agency to step in and out of processes to the awarding of choreographic credit to all participants involved in the process. This collaborative choreographic model meant the research was embodied even before we started actually rehearsing the work.

Before we explored the central themes or content, the workshop sessions comprised more formal choreographic elements, such as the use of interpersonal and personal space (kinesphere), subjective temporalities, the body and its architecture, and exercises in emotional and sense memory and its form in terms of colour, texture, shape, rhythm. As a means of acting training I drew heavily on the principles of early twentieth century Russian director, Konstantin Stanislavsky, to reach sense and emotional memories. In what has become known as the Stanislavsky Method, this recall precipitated a mimetic approach to acting, reproducing these states as “real” actions of a character for a genre of theatre known as “realism” or “naturalism”. In preparation for Body of Evidence, the dancers were taken through a series of these recall exercises extended through metaphoric use of “cellular memory within the body”, and then led to give form to these through pieces of movement, visual drawings, and installations with the use of objects and sound. Stanislavsky’s Method then generated impulses of recall as points of ignition that resulted in idiosyncratic and highly subjective dance language that eschewed the mimetic and worked with surreal imagery. The result was a cacophony of phrases of movement, sometimes vocalized, containing opaque abstractions of the actual feeling or memory of that feeling.

Importantly, my original intention — to give an elegant, kinetic form to the chaos of intensely personal experiences of violence — was itself disrupted and upended. A completely surprising, direct and evocative dance language began to emerge. Sometimes immobilized and static, sometimes repetitive and diffuse, it took the form of mysterious and messy non-sequiturs rather than coherent, recognizable dance phrases.

On stage, these episodes occurred against and within projections of body parts that were sketched by Henry Vandyke Carter, who illustrated the anatomical guide for students by Henry Gray, in their iconic book Gray’s Anatomy. The drawings are both detailed and naïve, prompting a sense of symmetry and order in the body, which the performances challenged and superseded. But the drawings nevertheless offered a forced coherent frame which the performances spilled out of.

I shall focus on the experience of one of the dancers, Nelisiwe Rushualang. Her study of violence was prompted by the response of a middle-aged white woman whom Rushualang sat next to on a park bench. In one of the workshops Rushualang who, like all of us, had experienced violence on a large scale, homed in on her sense of annihilation in this encounter with someone who did not do much more than subtly turn away, tauten her neck and avert her eyes, making it impossible for Rushualang to simply sit restfully on a park bench. This tautening of the neck was to become Rushualang’s main metaphor and point of departure. She moved quickly from this experience of disdain to embodying it. In doing so, she felt more in control of what was, for her, a devastating moment. Her physical realization of this state of disdain included using bandages to tie her neck in a set position and, with bandages coming up to her head, holding at the centre a blonde wig propped up by a long stick.

In the production, set against a large-scale projection of a Gray’s Anatomy drawing of a cross section of the throat and neck, Rushualang is brought in by five dancers with onion sacks on their heads, each holding one of the bandages connected to her neck. Rushualang’s entrance is discomforting yet regal. Much later, in a scene played out against projections of internal views of the rib cage and thoracic cavity, she and her “husband”, Siyanda Duma, perform a scene of paranoia and vigilance, the ribs now doubling as high gates, a protective cavity or a cage of cartilage and bone. The anxiety and holding of one’s breath while attempting to enjoy the privilege of the generous space of their living room, is exacerbated by composer James Webb’s deconstructed sound of the movement of the rib cage during difficult breathing. Attached to Rushualang’s bandaged hand is a light that she uses to hunt out any potential violation of her security.

During the course of this duet between Rushualang and Duma, another dancer, Ntombi Gasa, enters in a typical South African maid’s uniform, but also wearing a massive faux fur coat (holding an obscure story of desire). She sprawls out on a long table, looking on in a kind of boredom at this constant replay of paranoia. As the scene builds, the other dancers belly-roll their way along the floor like guerrillas, slowly and unobtrusively, silhouetted against the bottom of the projection of the rib cage, where the diaphragm might be. On their backs are little cardboard houses. As they flood the stage, there are moments where there appears to be an entire housing settlement underneath and inside Rushualang’s supposedly impenetrable womb of safety. As the performance becomes increasingly anarchic and chaotic, Rushualang in her regal dress falls to her knees hammering the floor as she navigates the chaos, her bandages now pull at loaves of brown bread trailing behind her. In the final moments, Duma cuts the bandages and releases Rushualang’s neck, leaving the loaves of bread behind as they make their way slowly out of the ensuing chaos to their rib cage home.

That this development in the work came from a single collaborative image—the stiffening neck of a woman observed, felt and replicated in numerous generative formations — speaks to this notion of embodied and collaborative research.

Body of evidence, by Jay Pather and Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre, 2009. Photos by Val Adamson, courtesy of Jay Pather.

2. Architecture, form and site in Qaphela Caesar!
The initial impulse for creating the mixed-media, site-specific production Qaphela Caesar!, based on William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, came at a time of great political upheaval in South Africa. Qaphela in isiZulu translates as “Beware” and serves as both an exhortation to Caesar to be careful and an injunction to be careful of Caesar.

Under Nelson Mandela, South Africans were convinced of the intimate and direct relationship between governance and society, but with Mbeki and then Zuma, politics became disaffected and removed, with machinations stemming from the ambition and political desires of individuals, and the populace at a remove. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar served as an evocative vehicle for these regimes, but more importantly it was a frame and a structure to look back and forward in time. The use of Shakespeare’s work was intended to comment on the capitulation of the South African government to Western political machination. An opening sequences plays a black and white movie of Julius Caesar ( featuring Charlton Heston), while the African continent watches, learns and imitates.

Qaphela Caesar by Jay Pather and Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre, 2012. Photo by Val Adamson, courtesy of Jay Pather.

There were several other points of intersection with Shakespeare’s original and my sense of contemporary South Africa at the time—the rising notions of dictatorship; the tussle between the good fight of the past and the political expediency of the present; prophesy and tradition and their role in politics; xenophobia and mob violence; conspiracy and repetitive betrayals; incitement and the spillage and overflow of spiraling emotion.

I also wanted to reference the process whereby this default colonial education brought me to Shakespeare in the first place. For example, at Drama School I was compelled to attend a Language Laboratory to undo deviant sounds in order to speak Shakespearean iambic pentameter. So, amongst other disruptions, I staged an interjection with actor Mwenya Kabwe. We handed out original scripts to the audience, imploring them to get us back “on track” and then insulted their lack of proper Queen’s English in their reading.

The various locations of the productions provided a concrete structure to contain this level of layering and came to determine its form: the Cape Town City Hall, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and the Pretoria State Theatre. I shall comment largely on the Cape Town production.

The Cape Town City Hall is a large Edwardian building, built in 1905 from materials and fixtures (such as the massive organ) from England. The City Hall also boasts the balcony from which Nelson Mandela spoke for the first time straight after his release in 1990 to a massive, bewildered, adoring and jubilant crowd. His speech, starting with the words: “Comrades and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom. I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you the people,” has become an iconic marker of selfless leadership[2].

As contained within this one building, these disparate historic events , the colonial circumstances leading to the creation of this building as well as Mandela’s historic speech signalling the onset of democracy, provided compelling material for the melding and collapsing of time and space continuums as well as political epochs, memory, history and future. Ultimately it was the presentation of the work in 14 rooms of varying dimensions, across two floors of the City Hall that provided its structure. Starting in the foyer and working back and forth through the various rooms helped realize my interests in memory and time, bringing the audience into a surreal dreamy space rather than retelling the narrative. The flow from space to space provided an episodic sensibility. The audience met near the historic balcony and waited in the ornate hallway of Edwardian pillars and balconies from which dancers watched surreptitiously.

From here the audience was led through the 14 rooms with each room given a particular theme as the tragedy unfolded:

1. a room for a press conference
The large room leading from the entrance foyer was set up with tables and chairs for a press conference. Used as a press briefing room for the 2010 Soccer World Cup, insignia and detritus still remained. This suggested that the entire production begins indeed with Caesar’s assassination and a press conference convened straight after. The audience entered to a character not in Shakespeare’s play — a smartly suited man in a pig’s mask who sat and watched. He appears throughout the production. The conference began with Mark Anthony’s ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ monologue, delivered by Mwenya Kabwe as if to a press corps made up of the audience. This is slowly interrupted by the plaintive singing in isiZulu of Caesar’s partner Calpurnia (played as a sangoma [diviner] by Nelisiwe Rushualang), as well as dancers and opera singers interspersed amongst the audience. The disruption rises to a cacophony as Calpurnia, uninterested in the political machinations of Anthony, leads the audience upstairs to the even larger banquet room of the City Hall.

2. a large room for nostalgia, debris and deal making
Here, the work begins with the projection of a 16 mm black and white film of Julius Caesar,[3] and a plaintive cleaner wheeling in a dust bin, in some apocalyptic future. Caesar, played by Nkhanyiso Kunene, emerges from the bin and gets dressed in a once sharp, now dusty suit. This transition takes us backwards in time. To the strains of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden and bracing, modernist choreography, great swathes of men and women perform with discipline and style at the Opening of Parliament and Inauguration. It is also here that a quieter choreography of conspiracy begins.

3. a room for hot air
The audience is then led into a small blue room, akin to a smoking room full of politicians in suits with their pants around their ankles, shuffling around aimlessly. Hanging limply from their mouths are white balloons used as speech bubbles that inflate and deflate in their earnestness to please and say the politically expedient thing. Caesar, in the centre of it all, makes ridiculous gestures to an opera singer’s rendition of “Brindisi” (The Drinking Song) from La Traviata.

4. a room for courage and conscience
This is a quiet scene in one of the smaller, more intimate rooms, wood-panelled with wall-to-wall narrow cupboards. The audience enters to see Brutus gazing at a tall chair with desire and hunger. His wife Portia enters and their duet ensues with Portia’s original text on conscience spoken by Mwenya Kabwe. This ends when eight conspirators led by Cassius emerge from the cupboards, cutting though the intimacy of the duet. After an athletic and aggressive group choreography, Brutus leaves with the conspirators. Another singer, standing on a cupboard, begins a Blues song, and Portia is joined by several women who also emerge from the cupboards.

5. a room of power, sex and prophesy
The Mayor’s Parlour, a dark wood-panelled room with impressive ceiling-to-floor windows and doors, is in the centre of the Hall. There, the smart-suited man in the pig mask dances the tango with a fellow dancer also in a pig mask. Brutus and the conspirators enter and seduced by the sounds of the tango, begin a choreography of excessive masculinity. This gives way to a stripper, who approaches a pole in the centre of the room and performs as the choreography accumulates and becomes raucous, overflowing with obscenities and an excessive display of masculinity.

6. a room for farewells, the women know
The audience is then ushered into a very small room, where the herb mphepho is burning, and is then drawn into a ritual begun by Rushualang as Calpurnia. Actor Mwenya Kabwe speaks the text of prophesy.

Qaphela Caesar by Jay Pather and Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre, 2012. Photos by Val Adamson, courtesy of Jay Pather.

7. a room of death
Caesar’s assassination is comprised of a walk-through of a room in which 12 headless, stuffed black suits in various positions of fleeing hang from the ceiling, blood quietly dripping from the sleeves onto the white floor. The soundscape of animated flies envelops the room. Audience members step on bricks to make their way through. In one corner Caesar lies wrapped in a blood-soaked grey blanket. Calpurnia gently cradles his head to the soprano vocals by a young singer in a school uniform standing on the mantlepiece.

8. a room of aftermath, expediency, no return
Underneath two large platforms Brutus experiences the first flush of power. Two dancers above him on the platforms perform a disturbing duet. One wears a protective miner’s mask, another, a white mask made of clay. One grates a piece of red soap while the other slowly tears open taut plastic attached to his skin, unleashing knives and forks that clatter around his feet.

9. a room of war
A section of fast and urgent group choreography erupts in a large room with several video projections of fire. Portia performs a solo as she tries to retrieve hundreds of shoes left by fleeing and dying citizens.

10. a room for ghosts
Brutus sits in a room that is saturated with hanging video tape as information bleeds and spreads. It is an unwinnable war. Caesar’s ghost appears and a duet between the two ensues to the plaintive singing of a sangoma (diviner) in isi Zulu.

11. a room to escape
This is a small and simple room overflowing with shredded paper that emerges from a shredding machine operated by a bored secretary. She chews gum while inserting document after document. There is, however, a window open and a curtain blows. In between the sound of the shredder and the wind, we hear Brutus’s last words on repeat:

Caesar, now be still.
I killed not thee with half so good a will.

12. a passage of regret
A long passage extends down the entire length of the City Hall. The audience is led down this passage following a moving platform. At the back of the platform is a screen onto which is projected slow motion, black and white footage of South African protest marches between 1950 and 1990. A drag artist in full regalia stands in front of the screen and as the procession moves, in faux solemnity they lip sync to Barbara Streisand’s rendition of Memories (Like the corners of my mind/ Misty water coloured memories/ Of the way we were.)

13. a room for announcements — the new order
The audience is led to a room with a podium. In the play, Octavius is inaugurated as the new King and here he appears as another actor dressed in drag, as the then leader of the opposition party, Helen Zille.

14. a room with a view — borrowed, blustering, blue
The audience is led into a large empty banquet hall with Mr and Mrs Pig in the centre and a table of glasses filled with wine. The audience can only see the action through a windows overlooking a large balcony. An Afrikaans youth band is lit up brightly outside on the balcony, singing nationalist rock songs, and they lead the audience into a heady celebration of the new order.

3. Interrupting structure, suspending narrative: rite
At the turn of the twentieth century, Igor Stravinsky provided a score for choreography by Nijinsky that caused something of a furore. Le Sacre du Printemps was a series of nine movements that culminated with the sacrifice of a young woman to appease the gods of rain and usher in spring. The structure is formal in its development of narrative and divided into two main sections.

Part I, titled Adoration of the Earth, comprised the following movements: An Introduction; Augurs of Spring; Ritual of Abduction; Spring Rounds; Ritual of the Rival Tribes; Procession of the Sage and Dance of the Earth.

Part II, The Sacrifice, also begins with a fairly long Introduction and goes on to Mystic Circles of the Young Girls; Glorification of the Chosen One; Evocation of the Ancestors; Ritual Action of the Ancestors and the Sacrificial Dance.

It was instructive that the description of the final two sections was as follows: (Evocation of the Ancestors) The Chosen One is entrusted to the care of the old wise men, and, (Ritual Action of the Ancestors and the Sacrificial Dance) The Chosen One dances to death in the presence of the old men.

Over the years, the number of productions of Stravinsky’s score that have critiqued and commented on this sexist interpretation easily outnumber straightforward restagings of the original work. Setting the work in contemporary South Africa, which has some of the highest incidences of gender-based violence in the world, was not as obvious a decision as it may have appeared. Performed at Maboneng, in downtown Johannesburg, rite dealt with the tension between cultural attitudes towards femme-identifying persons and a contemporary grappling with this in a society where the development of African tradition and indigeneity have been severely disrupted and disrespected. I used Stravinsky’s taut structure to create a conversation between tradition and the contemporary. I did this by interrupting the flow of the music after each section (which featured traditional, modernist choreography, in some instances comprising classical Zulu and Tswana dances) with a section of contemporary performance, often including video projection, text, and conversation with the audience. This mechanism helped both drive the narrative to its compelling if horrific end, and create moments of inertia, suspension and bathos that put into question the pressing drive of singular traditions. I choose three instances in the work to illustrate this.

In Part II, after what Stravinsky calls “the Mystic Circles of the Young Girls”, dancer, Ntombi Gasa, sits in front of the dancers who have just performed the “Mystic Circles” and speaks directly to the audience about virginity testing in her community. In the course of Gasa’s telling of a personal story, the other dancers become agitated and question the wisdom of sharing the intimate secrets of a closed community. (The revolt against telling cultural secrets, led largely by the male dancers, is something that actually happened in a rehearsal.) We decided as a company to stage the revolt by retaining aspects of argument that emerged in the rehearsal and allowing the dancers to improvise around this. This allowed persuasive, dissenting views to emerge. At one point, a young female dancer stops everyone and pointing to the audience (at the Dance Umbrella Festival) challenges Gasa: “These people have taken everything from us why do you want to sell them secrets of our culture as well?”

After another section, “Ritual of the Rival Tribes”, two dancers engage in traditional stick fighting in an athletic fight sequence that results in one of the dancers (Sibusiso Gantsa) “killing” the other (Mxolisi Nkomonde). As Stravinsky’s score ends and the body is lifted by Nkomonde’s “mother”, the last strains of this movement see Gantsa ostracised by the community. The contemporary sequence that follows meditates on black masculinities. The production, a critique of the original Le Sacre du Printemps, with its ritualized killing of a young maiden while a group of elderly men watch, nevertheless had to confront the emasculation of black men in particular—a subject that became a strong point of contention during discussions and workshops with the cast. This moment, after a traditional fight sequence that valourises masculine violence, was a moment to begin probing the paradoxes and complexities of contemporary masculinities via a single character.

Gantsa’s solo is full of interruptions and failures. In an image constructed by Gantsa himself, he wears his trousers upside down. With the pelvic region at his feet, keeping his legs from moving freely, a second dancer hangs cabbage leaves, portending hunger and lack, around him, creating a bizarre universe. A few male dancers in blond wigs and red stilettos — a faux impersonation of the “white madam” — play with the audience, further disrupting the focus on Gantsa. Finally, a group of black women in Afro wigs move in, balancing the coveted cabbages on their heads. The four men in their blond wigs take the cabbages from these women and begin pelting Gantsa with them, first playfully then more violently, while the four women sing and dance to Beyoncé’s Put a ring on it. The “blondes” then snatch the Afro wigs from the women’s heads, causing them to stop singing, hand them the bruised cabbages and flounce off. Gantsa continues to dance in spite of all of this. The four women slowly bring the cabbages to their mouths and start eating them furiously, using their teeth as graters or sharp knives and slowly approach Gantsa. The sound becomes impossibly loud, Gantsa turns faster and faster, and with the four women’s teeth gnashing away at pieces of flying cabbage, the lights fade.

rite begins with a tense late-night discussion (using text and dance simultaneously) between a man (Mxolisi Nkomonde) and a woman (Chuma Sopotela) about a film they have just seen. This escalates into an argument and Nkomonde launches into a verbal attack that catapults him into psychic darkness. Sopotela flees as Stravinsky’s music begins, opening with a plaintive flute taking us back to an old time (and yet something that impinges on the now). Past, present and future blend and fall over one another. And so both the traditional and contemporary tragedy begins.

Rite by Jay Pather and Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre, 2015. Photos by Val Adamson, courtesy of Jay Pather

In the end, as Stravinsky’s music drives towards the sacrificial dance of the maiden, the two time-framesthe traditional and the contemporary—intersect once more. After the climactic sacrifice where the maiden falls to her death, the rain does come—in the form of an obviously rendered recording of a Highveld thunderstorm. The dancers remove their traditional cloth, put on plastic raincoats and hold open white umbrellas onto which television static is projected. The large group make attempts at some kind of communication and leave to reveal a contemporary Sopotela again. Nkomonde finds her and implores: “Where have you been? I’ve been going crazy searching for you. I made one stupid, unthinking mistake and you disappear. Say something? Don’t just stand there. Please say something.” She waits, then turns sharply to face him and puts her hand on his mouth shutting him up. In this silence, the final two minutes of Stravinsky’s music is played again, all the way to the climactic finale. There is silence for a moment. Sopotela removes her hand. And unexpectedly, a bewildered not as yet “woke” Nkomonde, walks away.

Sopotela’s agency in silencing Nkomonde and getting him to listen follows a range of investigations into a continuum of gender, violence and tradition in contemporary South Africa. And yet, there is no easy solution. Sopotela’s gesture of agency, like gender-based violence in South Africa, remains untenable, suspended, unresolved. These experiments in form do not only have their legacy in rehearsals of global contemporary deconstruction, but in a legacy connected to South Africa. Layers of image and movement, open-ended forms, absurdity, the non-sequitur — all conspire to destabilize the conventional theatre structure and meet the complexities and nuances of trauma that has not been attended to, where audience, site and artist conspire to create a field of witness of the disruptive and the extreme. This is where the multiplicity of layered skirts comes in, and it is where my productions tend to stay these dense monsters that seem impossible to navigate.

I opened this article with a comment from a theatre critic, I end with another. Also writing about Qaphela Caesar! Mary Corigall wrote in the Sunday Independent:

In his work, Jay Pather adopts a hybrid language that not only tests the boundaries of physical rhetoric but is drawn from a multiplicity of disciplines; film, literature, theatre, and other forms of popular culture are all grist to this choreographer’s mill. In Qaphela Caesar!, synchronised choreography, film excerpts, videos and documentary footage are woven into a string of vignettes that are populated by dancers, a real-life stripper, an Afrikaans pop band, a sangoma and witch doctor (sic)… it is the intrinsic excess in his work that gives it its meaning. There are so many scenes, so many ideas, so many ironic gestures that the viewer simply cannot contain — or even process — it all. He presents a reality that has been warped through the lens of theatrics to the point at which its underlying obscenities rise to the surface[4].

And I guess, as with all research, one hopes that someone sees the point of it all.


Jay Pather is director of the Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) at the University of Cape Town where he is Professor. Here Pather has created structures for interdisciplinary collaboration in the form of Fellowships, a Post Graduate Programme in public and live art, public lecture programmes and interdisciplinary conferences. His research and artistic work deploys site-specific, interdisciplinary and intercultural strategies to frame postcolonial imaginaries and matters of social justice. He curates the Infecting the City Public Art Festival; the ICA Live Art Festival, the Afrovibes Festival (Amsterdam and UK) and currently an edition of South African performance art for the Spielart Festival in Munich. Recent art works include Qaphela Caesar (a deconstruction of Julius Caesar), at the old Johannesburg Stock Exchange in downtown Johannesburg and rite, a re-imagining of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. Recent publications include articles in New Territories: Theatre, Drama, and Performance in Post-apartheid South Africa edited my Marc Meaufort; Changing Metropolis ll edited by Marie Polli; Rogue Urbanism edited by Edgar Pieterse and Abdul Malik Simone; Performing Cities edited by Nicholas Whybrow and Theater Magazine (in press). He serves as a juror for the International Award for Public Art and on the Board of the National Arts Festival of South Africa. He was recently appointed Fellow at University of London and made Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.



[1] Robyn Sassen, ‘Dance Umbrella: Qaphela Caesar!’ 20 February 2012, https://w artlink.co.za/news_article.htm?contentID=29257

[2] Nelson Mandela, Speech delivered on release from prison, (Cape Town, 11 February 1990).

[3] Joseph Mankiewicz, dir. Julius Caesar. 1953.

[4] Mary Corrigall, ‘Dance Umbrella: Has SA dance moved on since Orlin’s “Daddy”?’ The Sunday Independent, 4 March 2012.


Works Cited

Corrigall, Mary. ‘Dance Umbrella: Has SA dance moved on since Orlin’s “Daddy”?’ The Sunday Independent, 4 March 2012.

Mandela, Nelson. Speech delivered on release from prison, (Cape Town, 11 February 1990).

Sassen, Robyn. ‘Dance Umbrella: Qaphela Caesar!’ 20 February 2012, https://www.artlink.co.za/news_article.htm?contentID=29257.

Mankiewicz, Joseph L., dir. Julius Caesar. New York: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1953.


Go back

Issue 49

Decolonial Propositions