Lebo Mashile is widely known as a luminary of South African poetry. But she is more of an artist born of exile. A creation of the thick lines of South African social separation, and Threads is perhaps her most buoyant work. It is a compilation of evidence left un-gathered. The liquid that seeps through the cracks of our not so credible social assumptions about gender race and religion. An indictment of humans who are co-conspirators in their own misery.
Created by Mashile and Sylvia Glasser, Threads is credited as a contemporary dance experience. But it is better described as an engaging mash up of creativity and the left overs of social memory and the somber cloak of silent mourning. It evokes images of squalor and is a show that microwaves uncomfortable conversations.
Over the course of the hour the performances move from Twyla Tharp to Isadora Duncan, In an attempt to try and chase down and accurately articulate the role of women and men in modern South African both in their separate spaces and in communal ones. Mashile shifts form narrator to the narrated. Paradoxically refusing to be bogged down by comfortable titles such as feminist whilst also potrying the role of a victim. Through her words she presents an almost “womanist” perspective.
Threads is however not a work that disarms critical minds, It never seeks to explain the fluid movements of the Moving into Dance contingent who occupy the stage. From tonal lighting to the key of the music, every element relates to and complements the other. The production is a perfect manifestation of seamless artistry. The thickness of Mashile’s words is softened by the poise of the choreography. Glasser has successfully managed to find the accurate and potent blend of intimacy and grandeur. The strings on the stage are a metaphor for the ties that we have in our society but also they play an almost protagonist role. As they are draped all around the stage, soft and staring they evoke an almost imprisoning nausea.
As Mashile fires form her gut about good girls who grow old and Girls who once played but have now become witches, Threads begins to gain a great degree of credibility as piece that seeks to showcase the reality of women in South Africa and not make excuses for it. Mashile is the epicenter of poetic violence as she is surrounded by hunters who move like snakes venoming her with her demons from yesteryear. She attempts to gather the strings of her immediate past, assigning blame to herself for the violence to which she has fallen victim. We in a five minute span get a showreel like glimpse into the Mashile’s creative range. She flexibly wears the costumes of poetess, singer, dancer and mother in a soft and measured performance.
By the last act the momentum which had steadily been shifting its weight in the room, suddenly presents itself in a three minute tirade about dance. The show becomes an orgasm of musical pulse and choreography so natural it almost beckons at the door of improvisation. Threads becomes a celebration of movement and the liberation of inexpicable impulse. The music moves from Chinese war drums to a fusion of xylophone and violin. As a creative showcase Threads make sense, however it is not preachy rather it plucks and is a show that demands public attention.
Images by Christo Doherty