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INHABITANT, ntsoana contemporary dance theatre

par Alice Neveu • 1er novembre 2012

Inhabitant , Johannesburg, 03/10/2012.
Meeting point for the audience at 16h30 in front of Bus factory on President street.

I only know the place by name. From what I’ve heard it’s dedicated to exhibitions and performances. My cab drops me in the middle of a courtyard but the driver can’t tell me where to go. He only knows that it’s around. I get off the car and start looking around me. I see a shooting crew on my right getting ready for I don’t know what and I manage to read on a sign that there is a dance studio in one of those buildings. I start to wonder in what kind of neighbourhood I’ve landed in, if it also takes part of this recent cultural and quite bourgeois transformation of some Jo’burg areas. Arts of main isn’t that far. Gentrification. I’ve never really heard this word before coming in this city. Here it seems to be everywhere.
I walk a little bit further to ask for my way. A lady told me that I first have to get out of this place and cross the road. The bus Factory will be in the other side. She adds, and now I realize how fun it is, that I should be very careful when I will cross. “Cars here are crazy she said, they won’t stop for you. There’s a zebra crossing, be patient and use it !” I’m not kidding, she really told me that. And yes, while I’m writing I realize it : a zebra crossing in Johannesburg ! So it’s possible. Well, In front of Bus factory it is, because further when you go down the street, well… do what you can.
So I cross and start to look around. On my left, down the road I see a double bridge very intriguing, overhanging President street. Three influxes, three directions juxtaposed one over another. Apparently this Bridge is a sort of limit between two neighbourhoods : Fordsburg and Newtown.
Humphrey is coming to me. The performance will start one hour later than expected because of internal mistakes from the organizers of this dance festival in which they are programmed. I understand the importance of the time, the choice of a particular moment in the day in which you want to set. 60min and it’s allready not the same people, the same influx, the same light. The performers do not have the time to adapt and think about slight changes. I observe them setting but soon I’m back on the pavement behind the big gate of the bus factory. I’m waiting, entertaining myself guessing who will share that experiment with me.
A small group is now assembled and a guide make us understand that we have to follow him. We start going down president street, walk under the double bridge I was looking at earlier, cross the traffic again until we eventually reach our destination : Several lines of plastic chairs turn into the direction of the street are waiting for us on the pavement. Well brought up, people sit and wait that something happens. Except that nothing spectacular happens.
Since it’s an observation post, I observe. The double bridge is now on my left. The cars influx passing in the air still keeping my attention as well as the more noisy influx of the cars passing in front of me. Taxi-buses by the dozen are beeping as usual, men are working, pulling trolleys full of plastics, people are passing (I can see we entertain them, sitting here in this awkward way). The city is bustling, boiling. On the pavement in the other side, the same kind of chairs than ours are also set in line but directed toward the bridge in the axe of the street. They face a lectern with speakers on both sides.
Around me, people are getting bored. The French season is going out today, which make the comments more directly understandable for me. « Nothing is happening ! » « Inhabitants ? So I guess we are here to watch the inhabitants of the street and that’s it !” says ironically the girl sitting next to me. “Who is Sello Pesa ? Have you ever see him ? What does he look like ?”, “What’s the next performance, they’re late !”etc… Everybody is getting nervous, begin to read and comment the program, move on their chairs like impatient children. But during all this time Sello and Brian are walking up and down the street completely invisible among the influx of the other passer-by. Only Humphrey begin to catch the attention of the audience. Unperturbed, crash helmet on his head, he is sitting next to us on one of these plastic chair. Suddenly, he stands up, starts to dance for himself on a mute music, sit again and will repeat this motion a couple of time. Girls keep on laughing behind me : « What’s wrong with this guy ? ». Meanwhile, the coming and going of Sello and Brian are more and more regular. On the pavement in the other side of the street, a strange audience is landing little by little, drop by a black car with an enigmatic driver. Those newcomers are unexpectedly elegants : suits, sophisticated dress, large and dark sunglasses. I’m wondering who are they going to mourn dress like this. A man settle down in front of the mike to begin his speech. I don’t understand everything he says but for me it sounds like the kind of speech that a mayor or a politician could do. The futur of the city, the improvement which could be brought for people in need and so on… During this time, Sello and Brian are still coming and going more and more frequently, more and more strangely and more and more dangerously. The audience begin to notice them going along the street, cross it up and down, crossing again and again. The amplified speech in the other side of the road produce without discontinuity good feelings, projects for the immediate future of the inhabitants. Words and words but never a look on what is happening precisely on this street. The body dancers are now lying on the ground, forcing the cars to slow down, to overtake, to hoot. Humphrey keeps on doing his lonely dance further. He makes me thing about a mocking spirit, a very intriguing presence, always around even if you don’t see it. A crash helmet but no motorbike. The head is hidden, protected but not the body. Visible and invisible, he is one of the most enigmatic figure.
Most of the audience leave their chairs. They are now standing on the pavement, terribly captivated and anxious about what they are watching : two bodies in danger lying on the asphalt. The speech turn to be just a faraway sound. Everybody is focus on their bodies. I’m thinking about those right thinking political speech and the gap, the lack of pertinence, which exists sometimes between words and reality, between fancy politicians and inhabitants of places they are yet talking about. How the immediacy of a place is stonger than everything. Here and now, I don’t listen to him talking anymore. The audience who where earlier so afraid of the street begin to encroach upon it now, getting closer to Sello and Bryan but no one dare to intervene. Our incapacity as an audience to get them out of this situation even if, deep down, we would like to, questioning me. The performance is indeed written, thought and the bodies are here from their own will but the street is real, the danger is real, the cars are real too. It’s really uncomfortable. I look at us wriggle because of the stress but in a completely unproductive way !
Sello come back on our side of the pavement taking a metal barrel as new dance partner. He handle it, testing its resistance on the ground and finally turn to be the new center of attention. The audience is now making a circle around him turning their back to Brian and Humphrey. Nobody see them making this round dance on the road. Once again, people are first attracted by the spectacular. Where is it happening ? As the man speaking behind the lectern, they don’t pay attention to the street no more. What is almost invisible, quiet or unassuming is completly forgotten, deny. I don’t think that it’s always a bad thing and it’s even normal that some events catch the attention more than others. It’s simply something that I notice : most of the time spectacular actions take precedence over the rest.
Sello keeps on playing with the barrel, changing the way we perceive it, sometimes it’s just an object, sometimes an instrument until it turn into a home. He slip inside, lying on the ground but this time protected by the metallic surface. Only his feet are visible.
To live in the street or live in a barrel like some live in a house, what does it mean ? Take the risk, the real risk to live somewhere. Do it by force and/or by necessity. Do it against some people will, with the comments of others. Risk death because you did it, because you flee, because you want to live somewhere else. To be filled by this same street, be part of this bustling life and city which will go on no matter what or being a spectator of it, line up on plastic chairs, what does it means ? When am I outside and when am I inside as an audience ? When do I stop being an audience ? Does it make any sense to talk about what you’re outside from, like politician but like we do all the time ?
The inhabitants performers weave slowly but surely, like a crescendo, a performance full of tension, constructed by several independent actions working together, from the invisible to the spectacular.
It raises the complexity of the space and its inhabitants but also the complexity of some questionings like the ownership of someone on a space, the right to inhabit a space, what is a home.
After the performance I heard interesting comments from a men who was wondering what could justify that artists could take the right to act on a space like this street, to disrupt the way of living of the inhabitants (make them take another way, feel scare inside their cars…) Do we have the right to be here ? As an audience or an artist do we have the right to disrupt the daily life of the inhabitants even if it’s to signify it ? He also though that as an audience we are privileged, we come, we sit, we comment, we will leave this space as fast as we arrive. So what does it mean ? He was wondering what this all thing means and for who is it directed ? Is it for french audience from wealthy place to caricature it, or the inhabitants, or both ? Does the people passing by could feel concern by what they see, tempted to stop and watch ? He didn’t think so.
For me there are no answers, or moral lesson to understand telling you what to think, but indeed a lot of legitimate questions which are still in my head ! I have no idea how long does it last but that was for me a great experiment.



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