THEATRE REVIEW: The less good idea of taking epics from hours to minutes
Season 5 of an artistic exercise on show at Maboneng Precinct repositions the relationship between art and technology
Dance practitioner David April describes the Centre for the Less Good Idea as a therapeutic, communal, spiritual and necessary space. He calls it an artist’s dream as he thanks founder William Kentridge and animateur Bronwyn Lace for it.
The Centre is an incubator space for the arts in Maboneng Precinct that fosters experimentation, interdisciplinary collaboration and values the importance of process. It encourages failure and the cultivation of secondary ideas.
Much of the success of the centre continues to be due to its probing — digging into the expansiveness of art and questioning art to find its impetus within humanity. There has been profundity in the imperfection of the shows presented there, and genius found in the revelations of others, which have all had a transformative effect.
Previous seasons, for example, have tackled the deconstruction of sonic storytelling — stripping the soul of sound and stretching its performative boundaries.
In 2018, theatremaker and academic Jane Taylor presented a collapsed conference — a series of talks, presentations and ideas all told through performance in her curatorship of Season 4. This included the simple reading of letters on stage with a show called Goodbye and the restrained use of movement and dramatisation that allowed words their purity in Salt — both of which challenged audiences to review what they deem performance to be and showed how emotion can be tapped into simply.
April and theatremaker Phala Ookeditse Phala are the co-curators of Season 5. They are probing form, working with the tensions of constricting theatrical epics into theatrical shorts and simultaneously repositioning the relationship between art and technology.
What does the epic look and sound like when explored in the short form, especially in the SA context? How are great, far-reaching narratives and thematic queries presented through the constrictions of time and form?
What happens to a work of art when it exists across the multiple worlds of virtual reality (VR), and how are the endless reaches of the creative mind effectively merged with the new horizons of technology?
The results — 11-minute epics, 20 in total, run over four programmes and six 360 VR films — revealed themselves in the intensive free-writing exercise led by Phala, which characterised much of the Season 5 process.
An actor and director trained in applied theatre, Phala is very methodological in his approach. He seeks out emotional and psychological stimuli in his work such as Kafka’s Ape, which has been featured at the centre. In his role as curator he was careful not to try to direct the collaboration.
“The journey for me questioned what collaboration is. It has been about letting people find their own organic way of working together and allowing the space to provide that. The guiding principles that David and I worked with have been from the Incomplete Manifesto for Growth by Bruce Mau and the Synthesis of El Bulli Cuisine by Ferran Adria which represent the embodiment of a collaborative process,” says Phala.
“It was also important for me to fight for the less good idea. That’s the idea you want to chuck out because you think it’s not conforming to structure or convention. When you think of an 11-minute epic, 11 is an odd number and time becomes the editor. That oddness is the less good idea that guided us,” he adds.
April, who brings immense knowledge and skill from his multifaceted roles within dance, works with the fluidity of the art form. His latest theatrical dance piece, Mnquma, created in conjunction with the centre and in collaboration with dancer Xolisile Bongwana, is having a fruitful moment right now.
He found it necessary to deconstruct dance for this season.
“One of the themes that came out early on in the process was undancing the dance. It became important to see dance in a different form and challenge ourselves as dancers and the audience to find moments of stillness within movement. Some of the presentations will include minimalist dance and it’s a deliberate move,” April says.
Highlights include, I See You, which is April’s first performance in 20 years. He is also choreographing two pieces, Plunge Avatar with Sylvaine Strike and Thirst with Phumlani Mndebele.
Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children is adapted into Carriage of Mother, placing women at the centre of war. Phala’s Commission Continua with Tony Miyambo traces the purpose, history and landscape of SA’s commissions of inquiry and explores sound as a form of aural healing.
The 360 VR films include Dinner Table led by transdisciplinary artist Sue Pam Grant, looking frankly at the everyday intimacies that exist between people sharing a meal; Sybil, by long-time collaborators Kentridge and dancer Dada Masilo, which pushes the boundaries of technology through performance; and Sangoma by musician and performance artist Siya Mthembu of The Brother Moves On, exploring contemporary engagements with spirituality and identity.
Running concurrently with Season 5’s 11-minute epic and 360 VR Film programme is the second iteration of the Invisible Exhibition — a collection of visual artists working in the realms of Alternative Reality by The Mixed Reality Workshop (TMRW).
• Season 5 of The Centre for the Less Good Idea runs at Maboneng Precinct from April 24–28.