When I learnt that I was to watch Vincent Mantsoe’s KonKoriti, I shuddered. Cue could not have picked a worse reporter for the show. Even though I am a drama student, physical theatre and abstract art is very much lost on me.
While there may be an embedded meaning which the artist wishes to convey, the overall product is far too open to interpretation for me to even wonder where, when, or how to start looking for it. This is not something to be ashamed of, as there are many of us who find we ‘just don’t get it’ when it comes to the abstract. We prefer to have a more definite understanding of the art that we consume. But like I said, there are people who get this sort of thing immediately, and I’m not one of them.
Having no idea what to expect, I turned to the Festival programme. It reads like something out of someone’s poetry diary. “Fall, rise, gasp for the last breath. Charge for factory, Pride I, I am…” It only furthered my fears of unknowing.
I took my seat in the Great Hall as the lights dimmed out. The black stage was empty, occupied only by five microphones on their own individual stands. The stage is then awash with a harsh, orange light, and the sounds of a bustling city street. Mantsoe enters from stage right.
He proceeds to present an interpretive dance piece, aided by lights, sounds and smoke to create an almost dreamlike spectacle. Appendages gliding and snapping in various directions with the occasional animal sound echoing through the hall, Mantsoe occasionally moves each microphone stand to various places on the stage. Sometimes they are placed in visible uniformity, and sometimes they are wherever he pleases them to be, all to serve the experience.
So let’s begin with what I can speak of with certainty. With the assistance of both the music and the pacing, Mantsoe conveys a complete narrative. I could perceive KonKoriti as the telling of a story of this man’s life in the society in which he resides. Shifts in both the beat and the aggression of his movements signal the events that take place. His mere existence in this realm, a danger that is rising up to confront him. The moments when he is at his lowest, and when he recovers from those moments. Fighting the entity or idea that threatens him, and revelling in his triumph when it is all over.
Another certainty is the intent. Using the presence of that definitive narrative, Mantsoe knows what message he is trying to push forward. Internal conflicts are natural to every living person, and despite whatever interpretation you may attribute to this performance, you can work out that this is a tale of fighting the demons both within and outside yourself. The only other visual cue on the stage, except for Mantsoe himself, are the five microphones, which can be regarded as a multitude of voices, of opinions, of experiences that he absorbs to arrive at a resolution by the end.
After this particular performance, Mantsoe actually came to speak to the audience and thank them for their attendance. While this may be regarded as a simple courtesy, it actually helped to remind me that the spectacle I had just viewed had come from a place of legitimate personal experience. KonKoriti is not performed for its own sake, there is a relation to be had with it.
But there are criticisms to lay against it. Mantsoe’s movements, while pushing the narrative forward, do become repetitive and predictable as the show progresses. Another issue lies with the use of conceptual movement to get specific ideas across. While it is an abstract performance, the means by which you convey your ideas need to be relatable enough to the audience in order for them to receive them. For a performance to become too alien is to lose your audience to the spectacle, rather than for them to engage the meaning within.
Catch Vincent Mantsoe’s KonKoriti on 6 July at 11pm at the Great Hall.
By Samuel Spiller