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Report: Avignon festival

Dance, dogs and tincans explain South Africa since Soweto

"19-Born-76-Rebels" by Mamela Nyamza and Faniswa Yisa
"19-Born-76-Rebels" by Mamela Nyamza and Faniswa Yisa © Christophe Raynaud de Lage/Festival d'Avignon

19-Born-76-Rebels is one of the shows in the official Avignon theatre festival where you find yourself asking for more.


In the space of one half and hours, two artists from Cape Town in South Africa – dancer/choreographer Mamela Nyamza and actress Faniswa Yisa perform a work which tells a surprising amount about the country.

They even manage a seamless, one may say, on-stage costume change to make the transition from adults to schoolchildren. Not so easy, as they wear empty Ricoffy cans strapped to their feet.

Efficient and concise, it’s a piece which relies mostly on precise facial and eye gestures, on mime, as well as plenty of visual double meanings, to convey the power struggle between black and white South Africans and, now, even amongst the Black South Africans.

As the title suggests, 1976 is key. A new generation of South Africans like Nyamza and Yisa were being born, and an uprising, and mass killing in a security crackdown, took place in Soweto township in Johannesburg. At the same time, all over the country, schoolchildren were rebelling in their own way.

To describe the situation the two women enlist the help of two German Shepherd dogs, Sunny and Gavin. They bark at the performers standing above them on stage, who taunt them, making them bark more.

Nyamza explains that when they were at school during the protests, to make sure they stayed in school, the police watched over them with dogs just like Sunny and Gavin, whose handler says, “They’re mean.”

The half-hour before the South African performance, D’ de Kabak, a French multi-disciplinary artist (his own job description) who started out as a rapper, and French dancer Emeline Pubert - she with dreadlocks, he with neater hair extensions, both in stone colours like the walls of the courtyard where they perform - created a sense of semi-anguish with their piece, Creatures.

The music, or sounds, for their dance, is definitely “creaturesque”.

D’de Kabal moans and groans into a human beat box inside his glass cage while Pubert approaches and withdraws vertically and horizontally. There’s something feline about her performance, but do cats take off their hoodies before they go on the prowl?

TheSujets à vif programme each year brings pairs of artists, mainly dancer-choreographers, who have never worked together before, as a way of exploring and extending their capacities.

The results are often refreshing, sometimes challenging, occasionally disappointing.

Till 14 July at 11 am and 6 pm at the Lycée St Joseph.

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