Wits Theatre | Johannesburg
“Nobody knows the trouble I seen.” Hlengiwe Lushaba began her contribution to this year’s FNB Dance Umbrella, titled Lest we (I) forget, with this plaintive refrain from a famous Negro spiritual. Standing at the entrance to the theatre, singing the line over and over, a shoe in her hand, she adopted the pose of beggar toward audience members as they entered. Some smirked, others left their ticket stubs in her shoe. All the while, collaborator Sdudozo Majola howled.The theatre space itself was denuded of chairs, requiring the audience to seat themselves on the floor, a simple yet potently discomforting gesture. Lushaba’s performance work comprised several vignettes. In one, Majola stands on a chair, black and white images of historical atrocities flashing onto a backdrop, and humiliates the performer under a spotlight. He commands her to act in the manner of various showbiz personas. Lushaba degenerates into performing like a cow. In another sequence, she speaks of her own funeral. How would it be, she quips, if no one attended your funeral but your choreographer? Lushaba has a strong voice and a potent sense of drama, but her work is about more than song and dance: it is about power. Lest we (I) forget is about forcing audiences to confront issues like violence, xenophobia and racism. Her manner is not without humour, yet not designed to be easily palatable. Like Steven Cohen, she takes a proverbial scalpel – couched within her ability to move and sing – and gouges into the underbelly of society’s manners. While the work Lest we (I) forget was not her most successful performance to date, Lushaba warrants critical attention. A graduate of the Durban Institute of Technology (2001), where she was mentored by Jay Pather, Lushaba is the recipient of several awards acknowledging her promise in the choreographic and dance spheres. Her work Ziyakhipha! Come Dance With Us!, presented at the 2006 National Arts Festival as part of her Standard Bank Young Artist Award (for dance), shifted its audience physically and emotionally.Just 24, the Durban-born performer has the grit and chutzpah to cock a snoot at performing arts traditions. Her work is raw, rough-edged and anarchic; and her message evinces the same sophistication, through the blending of associated values in art and dance, of practitioners like Pather, Cohen and Robyn Orlin.