While the Roman Catholic Church insists on a celibate male priesthood they are going to continue drawing criticism regarding sexual abuses.
Dansmettieduiwels (Dance with the devils) is a work based on the theme of the stereotypical Roman Catholic priest as a child sexual predator, “An unholy Mass … Have mercy on us”. It is an old and hackneyed premise and I expected that I would not like the work. I was wrong. I liked it very much indeed and wish I had the time to see it again. There is much that is rich in metaphor which I must have missed first time round. It is a very clever and complex dance creation.
Using sacred music by Johann Sebastian Bach, much of it from his Mass in B minor, the work began not with the glorious Baroque strains, but with a song relating to materialism with a prayer to God for a Mercedes Benz from somewhere. Thinking back on that it was a poor start to the fine work which would have been better off beginning with the visuals and the Bach. The projected words were a mix of Bible verses and the Eucharistic Liturgy – the words used to celebrate Holy Communion, particularly the words of the Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy).
There were very rich visuals projected onto a screen behind the dancers, initially of the contemporary church with the current Pope, then a variety of images from art by theme, and it was fun to pick out the themes which included Adam and Eve, Baptism, cherubs and heavenly beings and the Stations of the Cross. At one point there was also footage of the Northern Cape sub-economic housing developments. Design was by Marquen Carstens. This footage screamed at how mundane and out of place it was amidst the glories of the music, art and riches of the current church. This sense of alienation is important in the context of the work and occurred in various little places.
Byron Klassen danced the role of Cupid/Eros (pictured), setting the scene for sexual lust, with Grant van Ster as the Priest. Every so often a new character appeared, first the Father (Christopher Samuels), then the Mother (Illse Samuels), then the Boy (Faroll Coetzee). The Boy looked very young and I certainly hope he is above the age of consent, for the work has an age restriction (no under 16s) and is fairly graphic in places. This is the group from the “Garage” dance group which I gather is an ad hoc dance group based in the Northern Cape.
Anyone who is familiar with the Roman Catholic Mass, either from a musical point of view, or from a liturgical point of view, would have had no trouble marrying up the music to the action and to the sentiment, even if that sentiment were an ironical take on the issue. During the graphic scene between the Priest and the Boy, the Sanctus played. Black humour, but amusing indeed.
Vestments were plain for the most part, but when dressed for the Eucharist made use of red, the colour of martyrs. The vestments occurred in two places, once on stage and once in the accompanying visuals, and in both places the music was jubilant in tone. This contrast jarred, and in the first instance I assumed that it was liturgical ignorance, but at the second instance I realised that it was me who had been unable initially to piece the inconsistency together to come up with the study in contrasts which makes up the alienation in the midst of the familiar.
The work is clever and, despite the triteness and tiredness of the topic, I was able to feel a great deal of empathy for the characters. Abuse is always a heinous sin against the victim, the community, society at large and against God Himself. There is no adequate punishment nor reparation. “Lord have mercy.”
Dansmettieduiwels is choreographed by Alfred Hinkel for Garage. The performance I attended took place at the Market Theatre on 21 February at 19:30.
The Dance Umbrella, presented by the Dance Forum, is Dancing All Over Johannesburg until 4 March 2012.