27 April 2014

Leleme by and with Lerato Shadi

Last month, my friend the contemporary dancer invited me to join her in watching a dance performance. Given what I know about her tastes, I have expected that this would be a contemporary piece, which is more on performance art, rather than dance. Or if there ever is a boundary between these two, it would be very blurry indeed. So this evening, we watched Leleme, a solo piece by South African artist Lerato Shadi, who performed the piece herself.

How can I say this? This was a piece that I only appreciated after ruminating on the topic for a while. But during the time I watched the performance, I cannot say I enjoyed it. It was an hour long, and when we entered the auditorium, it was quite dark. We saw a mattress at the front, and on top of it, is some non-descript object. Later on, we realized that it is a female body, wrapped in some knitted object.

And then, the body starts moving, but very slowly. For the next fifteen minutes, she squirms and writhes on the mattress. And after the stated fifteen minutes, a video appears, depicting the naked bust of a woman, crocheting a scarf from a red thread. For the next thirty minutes, the scarf gets crocheted, until the yarn runs out. And then snippets of phrases get repeated over and over, in a language that not everyone understands. And then, the writhing body suddenly changes, and a red hand appears. Eventually, the artist's head appears, and she faces the audience. And her mouth opens, and there is a red object there, she opens her mouth, and the red object tumbles down, turning out to be a red handkerchief curled into a ball.

Now, only later, after the show, did I read the description (the original program had a description of yet another show, but that show was cancelled and replaced with this one). The description said that this piece takes the concept of "mother tongue" literally, demonstrating how colonial language can be experienced physically, as it encloses and restricts the person. You know, only after ruminating at this topic over and over again can I see how the piece demonstrates it. But before, while I was in the theatre, I constantly thought why did I waste my time and 9 EUR to see a woman squirm and writhe in a big body-sized sweater?

Overall, I suppose I enjoyed myself. It definitely resulted in good post-dinner conversation. But I don't think I am someone who goes and see this piece and immediately think, oh, that is art! In fact, I was afraid I fell asleep during the performance.

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