At last, I am writing about a South African choreographer and dancer. This work just might be my favourite piece of South African choreography. Created and performed by Thalia Laric, it is original and humorous and all Those Things that make me love dance. I watched it in July 2012, in a small (Methodist?) church in Observatory, Cape Town. I took my friend and flatmate, Kathryn, and we sat in the very front.
The evening consisted of work by Cape Town based Underground Dance Theatre (which I think is an important and exciting venture that may set the tone for the future of South African contemporary dance) and also the work of Nicola Elliot. I was there because Thalia invited me and I knew most of the dancers performing that night as the older and infinitely cooler kids who were three years above me at the Dance School (at the University of Cape Town). I also knew them as people who I possibly could have become really good friends with – if I wasn’t so goddamm’d shy and weird around them.
So in essence what I am trying to point out, is that I went to the show as a groupie. But trust me… even if I were not a groupie I would still be writing about this piece. It is a solo. On the stage is Thalia, a chair and a radio.
Thalia blindfolds herself at the start of the piece and remains blindfolded throughout. She listens to the radio, flipping through stations and pausing on songs she likes, she sits on the chair, she strays from the chair, she moves about a bit, blindly feeling her way around. The sound of the radio really completes the performance because it immediately adds several layers of performance on to the one you are watching. You are reminded of the infinite amount of real things, other performances, happening at that very moment all over South Africa. (And the the world, of course, but especially in South Africa because the radio stations go through a myriad of languages from English to Afrikaans to Xhosa and a variety of songs. The piece is immediately textured and complex by this ‘thing’ that manages to channel an entire country into one concentrated experience). It is simple and improvised and engrossing. In her email to me, she sums it up beautifully: “…it is an improvised performance, based on listening.”
The night I watched, she made her way to the audience about halfway through the piece and gently took hold of the man sitting next to me and directed him on to the stage. It was incredible because they were both so vulnerable. She for not being able to see whilst approaching a stranger in the seats and him for suddenly finding himself on stage. She whispered a few words in his ear, he took the radio and sat in her chair. She made her way back to his chair, slowly and reaching out. The roles had been swopped, slowly and gently, she was in the audience watching him. He was on stage, looking back at us. He started flicking through channels, she would direct from the audience with hand gestures regarding which radio stations to skip and which to stay on. The audience is chuckling, we are all somehow supportive of whatever is going on here. We are all totally present and listening. We know we are apart of a unique thing going on, not just bums filling seats for a show that will happen every night. We are a part of this interesting thing unfolding – And Thalia is kindly and simply guiding us through it, allowing it to happen with her chair and her blindfold and her radio.
It is a heady rush for an audience when they are not treated like a naughty child, quietly sitting in the dark watching someone more important do something very difficult and ignored by whoever is on stage. Not every performer can orchestrate such a sincere interaction with such simple gestures. Not only did Thalia draw on an excellent idea that was both simple and complex and vulnerable and brave, but she executed it in such an unassumingly confident way, reading the situation so well. Hooray for Thalia and for beautiful and quality choreographic South African work!
Thalia adds in her email, “I think it’s beautiful to find oneself in a performance in which you didn’t have to perform, you were just there, and that was enough.” I agree with her, it is beautiful and it is also very difficult and rare. I wish you could see the whole performance in real life and experience it Proper, but technology is the next best thing, right? The following YouTube clip shows some short extracts of the piece. You can also check out their Facebook page here.