This underground dance cabaret’s got wheels

“Let’s start with the honourable arsehole,” Thalia Laric tells a group of performers sitting in a circle as I enter the theatre. Thankfully, as it turns out, she’s not referring to the journalist that just walked into their rehearsals.

Humming Koos du Plessis’ Kinders van die Wind, the group immediately gets up and launches into a hilarious scene in which the various organs of the human body argue over which one of them is most important.

Performed as part of Underground Dance Theatre’s brand new “dance cabaret,” to learn which organ (excuse the pun) clenches the victory you’ll have to go see Askoop when it opens at The Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) in Oudtshoorn (until 11 April), or sometime later.

Askoop is a cross-genre piece that reveals the iconic shopping trolley as more than just a wheeled metal structure,” Laric, who co-directs and -choreographs with Cilna Katzke, tells me during a break in rehearsals. “Through the use of satirical humour and pathos it questions ideals of fulfillment and the limits of our greed. What does it mean to be rich, and to be poor, in today’s consumer culture?”

The inspiration for the production comes from a work she and Katzke made while studying together at UCT’s School of Dance. “It was called Trouble With My Friend Again, and looked at the sacrifices we make in order to have one thing, only to have to give up something else in the process. “How does the desire for material things affect our relationships? Is material fulfillment ever enough to satisfy emotional emptiness?”

Entertaining and provocative, Steve van Wyk and Joy Millar’s script for Askoop draws together dance, song and physical theatre in order to look at “how we see ourselves in relation to what we have and what we are able to attain.”

Made up of Bronwyn Reddy, Bianca de Klerk, Henk Opperman, Grace Babalwa Nosilela and Zama Sonjica, the eclectic cast represents a diverse mix of physical abilities and social backgrounds. “Through their individual stories various they cast light on consumerism and greed in contemporary South Africa. Zama, for instance, is a wheelchair performer, who brings a distinguished sense of maturity as well as an incredible presence nuanced by real life experience to the stage.”

A large amount of the choreography sees the incorporation of actual shopping trolleys as well as the depiction of its relationship with individuals from various walks of life. “We draw on various genres such as physical theatre, Broadway and contemporary dance. The trolley finds its particular identity, however, through the performers and how their individual characters embody their journey through the piece. “[A trolley] fills. It empties. It waits to become. A carthorse for the middle-class, a sturdy companion for the barefoot beggar.” Simultaneously, Askoop also sees the trolley used in unfamiliar ways – including being used as a pram, a chariot, a recliner and even a container for people and ideas – in an attempt to challenge the viewer’s existing perception of it. “The most danceable section of the work is a duet between Zama and Henk. It makes for a very powerful moment due to their respective talents as professional contemporary dancers.”

Referring to the production’s title, Laric explains “askoop” is a made-up word, which, directly translated, means “ash purchase.” A bit of wordplay on the Afrikaans term ashoop (rubbish dump), it means to purchase something that is made of ash (i.e. something that will eventually disintegrate). “Why do we have such a desire to acquire material things that ultimately are not able not fulfill us? As Cilna once summed it up during rehearsals: ‘Ek kan nie ‘n venter waentjie hemel toe vat nie‘(I can’t take a trailer to heaven with me).”

Under the musical direction of De Klerk several well-known songs were arranged, specifically including Whatever Lola Wants, Wives and Lovers and Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.

Apart from Kinders van die Wind, among the other South African favourites popping up are Laurika Rauch’s Kyk Hoe Glinster die Maan as well as Jeremy Taylor’s Ag Pleez Daddy. “You will also notice that English and Xhosa verses have been added to Kinders van die Wind.”

Askoop is made possible in through funding from the Waterfront Theatre Company as well as a successful Thundafund campaign run by Underground Dance Theatre. “We are so grateful to the people who came forward to contribute to the development of this new work. In total we raised just over R24 000. It’s been wonderful to get to know our supporters through crowd funding.”

– Steyn du Toit

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