Across, Not Over choreographed by Preethi Athreya performed by Vikram Iyengar (Pic: Val Adamson)

Of Spirit and Earth

by Sanam Sitaram

On Monday, the 29th of August, The KZNSA gallery was a gracious and fitting host to several works of the Jomba! festival. Each designated area of the gallery lent itself perfectly to its respective performance, all three of which seemed right at home in this intimate yet versatile haven of the arts.

I am greeted by a familiar sight as the dancers of Ex Nihilo perform their Calle Obrapia #4 once again, this time against a slightly different backdrop. Site-responsive rather than site-specific, I feel that Calle Obrapia #4 undergoes a transformation. The work is framed beautifully by a circular mural of a cityscape on a single wall, and across from it, a large tree. The feel of the work is both organic and urban. The use of the pavement does not differ much from the exterior of the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre which served as a stage for the company a few days ago, however, the performers end the work covered in dust, which feels, I believe, as if a connection to Durban’s soil has been forged.

Soil proves to be another prominent feature in Preethi Athreya’s Across, not Over as bold rectangular panels created seemingly from sand border the arena in which Vikram Iyengar would perform. Connotations of ritual, heritage, nature, faith, home and foreign lands come to mind. Iyengar is a picture of serenity before the work begins. Across, not Over seems to be a meditation on spirituality and the dancing body, from the point of view of a male Kathak dancer. Iyengar’s slow, precise intensity is powerful to witness throughout the piece, however, it was a pleasure to experience his classical skill in full force towards the end. Voice recordings suggest that “nobody has the patience of watching slow dance” and “subtle movements”, but I pose the question, if dancers and choreographers are as engaging as Athreya and Iyengar, how could they not?

Lliane Loots’s Migrations (at the feet of Kali) is nothing short of a spiritual experience. Histories of racial oppression and power dynamics are explored in this work through mediums that could, in other artistic contexts, perhaps be seen to contradict one other. Spoken word, film, dance, song and a play on light and shadow merge seamlessly to create a tapestry of live art that seeks to capture the brutality of legacies of oppression of people of colour. “I am not proud”, Robinson exclaims in reference to his ancestry. Nine performers of the ADD FLATFOOT company, embody on the gallery floor, memories of the dehumanization of their ancestors through the kind of dexterity and skill that one can expect from highly talented contemporary dancers. They remind us that while attempting to move forward, we must always consider the impact of traumas that span generations. Manesh Maharaj is deeply moving to witness. Invocations of Kali and Siva can be seen, and felt as he alters the energy in the room, and I am convinced of the presence of something sacred. Feeling the effects of this performance long after it has ended, it is unsurprising that Loots is too, a choreographic and collaborative force behind Migrations (at the feet of Kali).

This was a night which seemed to serve as a celebration of women choreographers and dancers of colour, of the beauty of Indian heritage in a 21st century context, and the transmutation of urban/suburban spaces. I am reminded of the power we hold as artists and millenials to foster environments for empathy and change, and I am able to acknowledge once again the power of these transformative times.

**Join Preethi Athreya in her workshop from 5–7pm today (30 August) to experience some of the Jomba! Magic**