Phuma-Langa, not Mpumalanga

Phuma-Langa. Photo: Kyle Prinsloo/Cue

Colourful tubes spiral around the dancers’ bodies. Tight robes and long socks with vertical lines wrap around ankles and legs. Rubber rings lace around the performers’ necks. This is a real theatrical and artistical representation of the isiNdebele culture, which impelled Mamela Nyamza’s Phuma-Langa. Swimming caps and tubes resembling snorkels serve as a paint brush to canvas the narrative of how African languages are in a deep ocean of survival. The dancers sound like they are saying their names underwater. The names evidently do not sound the way they should: a depiction of how the mispronunciation of names changes their sound and deliberate meaning.

The stage is silent. The silence is broken by the tapping of fabricated guns – as pens: a symbol of history written from the barrel of the gun. Everyone is seeking to find their place. As soon as each one marks their territory, a circle of land is drawn and occupied. A beating of drums and cinematic bass sounds set a mood of anticipation. The dancers move to the back of the stage and each draws a piece of art with guns as crayons. This is an image resembling the first things a child draws: the sun, houses and a flower. This is an intrinsic part of a child’s introduction to life. This is also the beginning of the making of an erasable history.

The controversial Afrikaans song, De La Rey, drives an amalgamation of African cultural dance moves spanned around the dancers’ waists and arms. The dancers look like bayasina (they are doing the isiZulu traditional dance) to the beat of De La Rey’s lyrics. Their guns are in the air as if they doing the abaNguni stick-playing. Inasmuch as each dancer moves individualistically, they remain one cultural group – amaNdebele. “Soos een man, sal ons om jou val”.

The dynamically choreographed Phuma-Langa tells a South African reality in dance. A peaceful mysterious amalgamation of African dance turns into a war zone. The tubes bang the floor with sounds that clog up your eardrums. The audience is awakened from the present and history replays before them. Artistically, the music and the isiNdebele stepping-dance turn into a cultural gathering. IsiNdebele clan name praises are shouted out rapidly and passionately by Thulani Mgidi: telling the stories of amaNdebele, yesterday and today. “Bathi bakhamba bodwa, abana melusi!” 

Heels meet the ground in hard collisions and the ball of the dancers’ feet create a softer sound of the isiNdebele dance. The show ends, leaving the audience in the dark to give the show meaning as South Africans forming a part of this past and presence. “As artists, it is important to reflect,” said Nyamza during the post-show discussion.

By Thandolwethu Gulwa.