Presented in response to the invitation from Faustin Linyekula as part of the carte blanche he was given in June 2005 at the Centre national de la danse, “Plasticization” is Nelisiwe Xaba's fifth solo but the first presented in Europe: the young South African choreographer is primarily known there as the muse of Robyn Orlin. Alongside the designer Carlo Gibson – the Johannesburg fashion designer known as Strangelove – she creates a piece as relevant to the theatre of objects as to performance and the visual arts.
In “Plasticization”, N. Xaba appears from nowhere at the back of the theatre and saunters among the spectators wearing a kind of made-to-measure leotard made from a multi-coloured plastic shopping bag, while an “integral” hood with long ears completes the outfit by masking her face. When she reaches the stage, she changes to the rhythm of the music of the “Polovtsian Dances”, a self-assured bunny-girl who becomes a theatrical shopping bag walking around the stage. Thus packaged, she subtly summons several "characters", by the simple manipulation of a pointe shoe, a heeled shoe, a rubber boot and a worn out trainer, which she presents humorously to the “hits” of the classical repertoire.
Unclassifiable, like a lot of the work of N. Xaba, who refuses to be constrained by any kind of labels, “Plasticization” deals with our relationship to the political, erotic and sociological dimensions of the contemporary body. Our relationship with the materials of “plastic” performances is highlighted here metaphorically. Concerning the condom – which has already inspired Robyn Orlin to create her piece “We must eat our suckers with the wrappers on” in 2001 – Nelisiwe Xaba notes that it is as much a barrier against the AIDS epidemic devastating South Africa as an additional “screen” between human beings, just like the use of the gloves, or the wipes which she inserts between her mouth and those of the spectators chosen for the distribution of kisses which opens the piece. All these protections are part of a global tendency towards sanitization and individualism.
The consumerist nature of a material which is flooding the world market without nature being able to assimilate it also appears implicitly. Healthy or degenerate, Xaba refrains from making a decision but shows great creativity in providing an overview of the infinite “plastic" possibilities this material allows.
Often associated with the piece “They Look At Me And That's All They Think”, “Plasticization” has been successful in France and was performed at the Centre chorégraphique national de Caen in 2006, at the Centre de développement chorégraphique (CDC) in Toulouse, at the Carré in Saint-Médard-en-Jalles and at the Séchoir in Saint-Leu de La Réunion in 2007, as well as at the Hivernales in Avignon in 2010. In Belgium, the Kaaitheater (Brussels) welcomed this work in 2008.
The collaboration of N. Xaba with the designer Strangelove continued with the works “They Look At Me And That's All They Think” (2006), “Black! … White?” (2009), “Scars and cigarettes” and “Uncles and angels” (2013).
“Xaba sees her work as a way of exposing the clichéd voyeuristic Western view of black South and criticises growing capitalist and commercial pressure in her own country. In “Plasticization”, she wears plastic bags cut into pieces and is almost hidden from view. Plastic is a symbol of over-consumption as well as sterility and hygiene. Plastic covers and protects but also seals off. How do you create intimacy using this unnatural material? And does direct physical contact still have any meaning?”
Source: website of the Kaaitheater, Brussels
“In “Plasticization”, Nelisiwe Xaba – at least we assume it's her, since we will never see her face – emerges covered with a clumsy mask somehow reminiscent of African masks. This unlikely body: four feet, no head, donkey's ears… emerges from among the spectators and launches into a small ceremony of a particular kind of kisses… With one black leg, one red, wearing a high-heeled shoe and a ballet pointe shoe respectively, she makes her way unsteadily around the stage and shows us modern hygiene-related objects which will obviously bring a wry smile to the faces of anyone living in a country of glaring poverty, where AIDS is a national plague… seventeen breath-taking minutes.”
Source: “Le mot d’Emmanuel Serafini”, Centre de développement chorégraphique Les Hivernales programme, 14-15 February 2010.
“To the large canon of dance in Africa, Nelisiwe Xaba brings an acid and feminine vision of the status of the black body and proves herself a worthy successor to Robyn Orlin. “Plasticization” evokes a society that has become materialist and plastic. In this daily, unbridled search for the sanitised, the sterilized, the increasingly safe, plastic has become a hero. (...) These two solos cast a critical and nevertheless amused look on our society and put many stereotypes into perspective.”
Source: Centre de développement chorégraphique Les Hivernales programme, 14-15 February 2010.
“In her solo “Plasticization”, Nelisiwe Xaba cuts a hood and a skirt from those famous plastic bags favoured by the Parisian shop Tati Barbès, and ends up hiding inside them! A welcome criticism of a sanitised world and a consumer society.”
Philippe Noisette, Les Inrockuptibles, 30 January 2007 (n°583)
“The solo is an act of speech, an argumentation aimed at convincing us of the devastating effect of a sanitised way of life. At the beginning of the show, the dancer, in her new kind of tutu, uses a wipe and kisses several spectators while using the wipe as a screen. In this uncomfortable, intimate relationship, in the act of bringing together dancer and audience, she confirms the distance between us in our modern societies.”
Fatima Miloudi, website "les trois coups", 14 March 2010
Updating: February 2014