Sonia Radebe and Qudus Onikeku collaborate together in this exhilarating two-piece performance, part of the Afrovibes Festival at the Lakeside Arts Centre, which celebrates the contemporary dance, theatre and spoken word of South African culture and beyond.
Inception and My Exile are distinctly separate performances which explore the contradicting variations and continuities between the psyche and the body. Radebe’s Inception explores the female psychology, its constant fragmentary nature and the alterations which occur in it with ferocious and brutal energy. Onikeku’s performance in My Exile is as dramatic as Radebe’s presentation yet the message is entirely different. Onikeku explores space and the home, how movement and the return to the ‘known’ is not always a consoling retreat. The music of both performances is discordant and unmelodic, allowing the dancer’s body to always be the centre and focus of the routine.
Radebe’s piece Inception explores change and the transformations the female form can take under pressures of the self and the external. The conveyance of suffocation or entrapment through the physicality of dance -through movement- seems to be contradictory. Yet the meaning, the emphasis and symbolism behind the performance is clearly displayed through Radebe’s self-choreographed dance solo. Multi-layered emotions are expressed through Radebe’s body which is also affected by Nhlanhla Mahlangu’s score, described as ‘techno whale song’. The music becomes a language which remains shrouded in indecipherability, an apt accompaniment for the abstract, psychological explorations of Radebe’s piece.
The ambiguity of movements allows multiple connotations for the piece, yet the poignancy with which Radebe steps, runs and spins underlines the clarity of emotion, and passion which presents itself throughout the whole piece. Inevitably, the work is stylised but Radebe’s body displays with ferocious vitality, the pain and torments of a distressed or transforming psyche; her face too contorts with turmoil. Eye contact and facial expression fuse with her bodily movements to an impressive effect. Radebe’s actions often increase in their frantic desperation and alternate with blurring rapidity. It is at these points her body changes form, the body becomes unrecognisable and thus ‘the psyche’ is revealed.
Light affects the fluidity of Radebe’s steps, whilst absence of over-complicated costume accentuates the human form removed from any kind of decoration. In My Exile projections augment the performance yet never distort nor obstruct Onikeku. Lighting designs prove effective additions to both performances, reflecting the emotion from the movements of the dancers onto the environment surrounding them, and constantly changing the relationships between space, performer and music.
Onikeku’s My Exile explores the concept of spaces and places, how the place called home does not necessarily relate to the homely or to the emotional respite associated with it. He draws upon various influences, cultural identifiers and musical disharmonies to complement and contrast his body and voice, which is heard at the very climax of the piece. Charles Amblard’s accompanying guitar strongly affects the choreographed movements: single tones, discordant harmonies and simple rhythms control Onikeku whose upper body twists in accordance to the music with intense and dramatic climaxes.
Inception and My Exile are both intense performances. They combine athletic energy with at times both, graceful and graceless explorations of the mind racked with doubt, angst and fear. Both performances are rich in emotion and executed with obvious, unrestrained zeal and talent.