This extract is taken from the recording of a rehearsal, presented at the Centre national de la danse (CND, National Dance Centre) as part of the Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula's carte blanche programme in June 2005.
Created in collaboration with the actress and writer Ntando Cele, “Silhouette” stages the battle of the sexes by exploring the motives behind the depictions of sexuality and identity. The work deals with violence towards women, one of South African society's major issues, in a subtle way. The piece, which centres on two characters and the playing out of their mutual attraction, also uses a video artist who captures a different viewpoint from that of the audience.
The traditional performance format used in this piece makes it unusual in the work of Mlu Zondi. His other works are designed for open artistic spaces such as galleries or museums, and are considered as “performances”, with all that that implies in terms of the spectator's freedom of movement but also in terms of different context.
After being honoured at the MTN New Contemporaries Award in 2006 in Johannesburg, “Silhouette” was performed in South Africa in its final version (Grahamstown National Arts Festival, FNB Vita Dance Umbrella Johannesburg, Jomba Contemporary Dance Festival in Durban…), where it met with both public and critical success.
“I say my vagina is a curse for it makes me feel less powerful to fight for my belongings” (1)
Ntando writes a great deal, about everything, but sometimes the cry of the body is louder… Mlu dances a lot, more than anything, but sometimes the body doesn't seem strong enough… However, anything can be used to say what you want to say, in art, just like anywhere else...
And it's not about too many texts, movements and images as so many mirrors, correspondences, resonances to question daily life and the private sphere, society and the engagement of its members. The instant video close-ups point out what we could too easily ignore but which affects our lives nevertheless…
Here, it's about the relationship between men and women, sexuality, the individual's place in a hastily “reconciled” society, lacking core values and with an uncertain future. Here, it's about a country and a home, collective memory and particular paths. Why do so many children grow up without a father, if men are superior to women? “I grew up with the certainty that my father ruled the household and it's true, he did a lot. But while growing up, I saw all that my grandmother had done… In my family, you find these strong women, who give you courage just by being themselves. My heroines are the women who sell sweets in the street to be able to put food on the table and to send their children to school. My generation of women knows how much it owes these women, who are the heart of this country. It is they who will bring change…”
Political? Beyond doubt… Because for Mlu, “being black in South Africa today is a standpoint in itself. The simple fact of being there, standing on the stage, is a political act. In the same way, our economic, social and personal lives are always connected with politics and it is difficult to escape it…even if we shouldn't succumb to it.”
The spectator is close; we play with intimacy, confrontation, developing relationships... “In Europe, as in South Africa, stereotypes are plentiful. The only way for us to escape them is in this close, sometimes familiar, dialogue with a spectator: we tell them about us, about our life over there, elsewhere, and perhaps they will relate it to their own life here.” Who knows, sometimes it’s enough to change an attitude…”.
Source: Virginie Dupray, Centre national de la danse programme for “Silhouette”, 22-24 June, 2005
(1) “I say my vagina is a curse for it makes me feel less powerful to fight for my belongings." Ntando Cele
“Mlu Zondi's “Silhouette” premiered in Paris last year. It too is a theatrical piece, with text by Ntando Cele (of Tin Bicket Drum). He presents two grotesque, almost burlesque caricatures of stereotyped male and female identity. The male is lascivious, insatiable, and abusive. The female is spontaneous, organic – she farts and spits – but these are male prerogatives, and for violating them, she is inescapably typecast as slatternly and whorish.
Zondi says: “I like to find new ways of saying things... I did train in dance but I was in drama school, so there's a lot of acting”.
During the performance, video artist Momelezi Ntshiba roams about the stage documenting what is happening with closed-circuit projections. Zondi is questioning the methodology of knowledge acquired through observation alone, asking the audience to question their own interpretation of the performance, arrived at from "a spectator point of view with no engagement".
Source: B. Meersman, “Fresh at the National Arts Festival”, website Real Review / South Africa, 6 June 2006
“In the performance that won the MTN award, “Silhouette” (2006), Zondi works with poet/actress Ntando Cele to play out a new relationship that starts as a tentative courtship. But when the mutual attraction moves to a point where the two embrace, the shy character Zondi plays is overtaken by predatory urges, and ripping off his red tuxedo he forces himself violently onto his traumatized partner, licking her face like a hungry wolf as she screams her distress. A third player in the piece moves around them at a distance, like a discreet referee, wielding a video camera. Close-ups of the action, recorded by this character, are then projected onto a screen behind the performers. “Silhouette”, with its theme of brutish sexual coercion, is a shocking yet thought-provoking statement on how rampant domestic abuse is.
Source: S. Williamson, South African Art Now, Harper Design, 2009.
Updating: July 2013