By BRUCE DENNILL
In Her Shoes / Directed by Luyanda Sidiya / John Kani Theatre, Market Theatre, Newtown, Johannesburg
It’s an awful indictment of society in general and South African society in particular that it comes as no surprise that the anchor production for a Women’s Month season at the Market Theatre is concerned with the denigration of women in both overt and subtle ways. There is celebration of the strength of women, too, in choreographer and director Luyanda Sidiya’s intense hour-long piece, but it feels like it is placed in contrast to the segments dealing with pain and frustration, rather than prioritised for its own sake.
Performed on a traverse stage (with two banks of audience members facing each other across an open section of the main John Kani Theatre stage) the piece begins with Nomasonto Radebe’s solo Cracks & Beauty, a stark, striking interpretation if a state of mind that sees the dancer begging observers to leave her alone as she wraps things up in the stalls, where ever seat features a label – all women’s names, including the unfortunate victims of recent real-life crimes.
It’s an unsettling opening, but one that sees the audience better prepared for the remaining sequences, which are underpinned by Lesoko V Seabe’s excellent narration (if that is the correct term – it sometimes functions as commentary). Seabe moves wonderfully but her dynamism and focus as the figure of wisdom and guidance in the work are captivating and convincing. Radebe, Nommangaliso Tebeka and Joyce Hopane join all Seabe’s exclamations and other segment markers with near-continuous choreography, some of it unadorned and efficient, but much of it sensual and alluring – purposefully so, to drive home the point that women can affect – nay, control – the mood of a situation without their objectification being the most likely outcome. Indeed, at one point Seabe says, while encouraging her cohorts to use their bodies to best communicate their attractiveness, that “there was a time when the way we moved would mean only what we wanted it to” and there’s a buzz in the room that confirms that this was the case, and is no longer so. Seabe later highlights Hopane’s arresting beauty and then directs a question toward a group of young men in the audience, saying, “Would you hear her ‘no’, even if she had earlier said ‘yes’?”
The fact that this question – and the movement that backs it up throughout the show – is not rhetorical is why productions like this continue to have value. This is not escapist entertainment; in fact, it’s quite difficult to watch. But it is a reminder of not only a theme that must remain uppermost in our collective conscience, but of the tough questions that must be answered on a daily – even hourly – basis.
Kudos to the excellent live band (Billy Monama, Sibusiso Sibanyoni and Phosho Lebese), whose fluid, jazzy soundtrack adds a level of class to proceedings impossible to replicate with recorded music.