Editor’s note: This version has been ammended from the original, which stated that Via Kanana was set during the years of apartheid.
Via Kanana streams on demand through the National Arts Centre from Feb. 16 to March 6.
“Corrupt” is projected and glitching on two angled walls, on either side of a dancer in the centre of the stage. The dancer has trouble standing, but once he does, others join him. The lights brighten, the shadows disappear and we see the cast of eight. They are uncomfortably situated inside the corruption.
The dancers of Via Kanana (by South Africa’s Via Katlehong Dance) smoothly transition between solos, exposing the group’s palpable connection. The marriage of music, storytelling and dancing includes their expertise in krump, tap, gumboot, contemporary, acrobatics, partnering and most often pantsula, which is extremely impressive in unison. They seem to spend more time suspended in the air than tethered to the ground, yet they are still rooted. Sometimes, their steps add new rhythms to our experience.
Projections and shadows behind the performers make it easy to imagine them in different landscapes, adding depth to the visuals and narrative. The way they partner one another, move through negative space and dance as one seems to express how it feels to be part of a social movement. Through this, they convey being constantly on alert, anticipating each other’s next move, offering care or being in a time of need. The solos allow us to see possible roles each dancer could represent in a political group.
Throughout the hour, the show has the beautiful timing that many of us expect from a great novel or film. Just when we think we understand the group dynamic – plot twist. One woman begins manipulating other dancers through her dancing and gesturing, and eventually, with just the snap of her finger, she is the leader. She is clear and commanding in her speech about creating a new peaceful Africa by punishing the corrupt.
Via Kanana is set after the years of apartheid. Remnants of the surreal tone that consumed South Africa are felt, but this show also grounds this feeling for the audience to understand the concrete effects that led to the rise of the Pantsula movement. It isn’t hard to empathize with the leader of the group. She is a deep, multi-dimensional character, highlighting the flux in humanity. She, and all the characters, can represent roles within an activist group or within one person.
Choreographer Gregory Maqoma keeps the audience both in the loop and on their toes. The choreography is engaging and arresting. Without allowing viewers too much time to settle into each scene, it assumes that the audience understands the journey. The piece pushes forward with fluidity and vigour. The narrative is clear, but the qualities in its telling seem to manipulate time.
Time doesn’t seem to operate in Via Kanana the way it does in real life, through repetition of movements, concepts and relationships. Adding to the warped sense of time, gravity seems to apply to these performers differently; their agility and stamina is enviable. Reflection, transference and rotation exist in the physical, conceptual and emotional ideas.
It is so enjoyable to see each performer’s flavour and pizzazz within unison, even giving us a feeling that within social upheaval, dance continues to uplift them. Moments of tenderness between the dancers show that even amid destruction, they will find care. Their body percussion has rhythmical clarity and demonstrates resistance. Suspense builds when one dancer is quieted from performing his rhythms. This feels like a turning point as we can’t discern whether the group is silencing or protecting him. Every time the group begins to shoulder bounce, embodying the beat en masse, we are both at ease and anticipating when they will next separate.
The falling action of the show, which could also be considered a climax, makes the transition from open lands and free-flowing movement to the tight bustle of the city.
This piece is relatable to many, regardless of birthplace, but there are nuances that could be missed by someone who hasn’t grown up or lived in the same place as the performers and creator. Experiencing pantsula through Via Kanana will leave you full and also thinking, “That’s it?” because you will want more.
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