Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Queer NY presents Mamela Nyamza's "HATCHED"

South African dance artist Mamela Nyamza
in her solo, HATCHED, at Abrons Arts Center
 (photos: John Hogg)

Did I hear right?

It took several years of effort for Shay Wafer's 651 Arts--now co-presenting with Queer New York International Arts Festival--to finally bring South African dancer Mamela Nyamza to New York?

And for only one night?

Curated by Marýa Wethers, Nyamza's HATCHED introduced an artist I wish more New Yorkers could have experienced. Attendance was sparse. Every seat in Abrons Arts Center's Playhouse theater should have been claimed.

(photo: John Hogg)

Abrons has smaller, less formal and more flexible spaces well-suited to alternative dance and performance. But Nyamza pointedly mixed the classically formal (tutu, pointe work, port de bras, Saint-Saëns) with the unexpected (blood-red laundry, looking, for all the world, like flayed flesh or butcher cuts, that she hung to dry on a line strung between the wings). She needed honest-to-god proscenium space for the razzle dazzle of her visual imagery and lighting. She created a jarring, split-awareness for audience members first to take their seats before the show began. We listened to The Dying Swan and gazed out on Nyamza's bare back, shaved head, waves of crimson fabric engulfing her white tulle as, beyond the hall's flung-open doors, stragglers continued their loud chatter.

From the outset, HATCHED announces itself as both forbidding and irresistible--and sacred--very much in its own space, which we must focus to approach.

And it was no surprise when, during the post-show Q&A with Wethers, Nyamza revealed that, in performance, she goes into her "zone," communing with her deceased mother and other ancestors, and that she aims to welcome us into the work while maintaining an unbreachable distance.

Dramatically reflecting the tension between Nyamza's ballet training--with which she maintains a complicated relationship--and her Xhosa heritage and artistry, the solo suggests a search for her true self beyond all external structures, expectations, appearances. Her work is sourced in her life. Married and a mother, Nyamza left her husband for a woman and now exults in her life as an out lesbian. The personal is the political is the poetic.

Let's hope for more chances to see what Nyamza, an artist of arresting skill and a woman of much charm, might have to offer. I hope it will not take long for her to return to New York's venues.

HATCHED is closed, but for other events in the 2016 Queer New York International Arts Festival--running through October 2 at various venues--click here.

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