Moya Michael (South Africa) and Igor Shyshko (Belarus) work in Belgium. Their Dance Umbrella 2014 piece was entitled Darling. It was a work that one either loves or hates. Some people left during the performance while others were entranced and challenged. I thought it was clever and the choreography was meticulously plotted and magnificently performed and I loved it.
From the very start it was different. The set was a wall of recycled plastic at the back of the stage. The house lights (lighting by Tom Bruwier) remained on for the first few minutes as the pair began their hypnotically rhythmical dance across the stage and off again. The choreography was simple, repetitive and the soundscape (Gaspar Piano) was initially just the relentless chugging of a steam engine. It was hard on the nerves and a few members of the audience tittered nervously.
The soundscape is important because it is only against it that the work has any meaning. We hear clips from South African Apartheid history, especially around the happenings both before and after Mandela’s release and before the first democratic elections. And we hear clips relating to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. And that steam engine sound. The clips were never clear, they blurred and screeched. It was a very unnerving sound.
The footwork of the duo was precise, intricate and mechanical. It ebbed and flowed with jumps and steps and the couple remained one unit. I wondered how they synchronised it so perfectly as the work built to its various climaxes. The two dancers eventually broke their grip on one another and moved into a “free” work wherein they convulsed hysterically before slowly subsiding back into their pair bonding and the precise and calming rhythms.
One was largely left to form one’s own opinions of the work “constructed with layers of cultural references”. I took from this the inevitability of life’s social and political changes against the constant routine motions we perform from day to day. I loved the costuming, with Shyshko in royal blue and Michael in a faded orange. The colours, but not quite, of the Nationalist government, almost, but not quite, of the old South African flag.
Moya Michael and Igor Shyshko’s Darling was performed at the Wits Theatre for the Dance Umbrella on 6 and 7 September 2014.