Written by Ziphozakhe Hlobo
“Can I have some water, I am dry,” said Billy during the performance. Mahlatsi rushed to get him water. “Water-breaks,” uttered Billy in undeniable satisfaction. “Mother’s water breaks and I was born…” he continued.
On the 14th of June, I had the pleasure of going to Plat4orm in Newtown to see a theatrical piece written and performed by Billy Edward Langa and directed by Mahlatsi DBoy Mokgonyana. I was immediately astounded by Billy’s exceptionally detailed movement on stage; how every step and every turn looks perfect, like choreographed, but not quite, because it just looks effortless. His transition from ape to man entirely using his body revealed him as an incredible storytelling dancer. Among other things, Billy has the gift of inviting his audiences into his train of thoughts, carry and challenge them.
Tswalo is a lyrical prose, poetry and physical storytelling entwine to interrogate the rules that govern life on earth, those such as power, creation, truth, connection, intuition – the performers’ expression of his ‘source’. Being a spiritual quest that gives the audiences the baton to walk through their own paradigm of ontology, Tswalo’s poetry, prose and stories furnish us with the necessary tools into a deep meditation. It undoubtedly begs the question (or theory) of being, becoming and unbecoming. Indeed, when Billy says he remembers being in his mother’s womb, he leaves you no choice but to squeeze the texture of his work and ask yourself what is being said here, while you’re catching up with his magnificent poetry.
Produced in collaboration with The Movement RSA incubation program for networks, the team is currently in Cape Town for the Alexander Bar Theatre run before they head to the UK. It’s no wonder SHCC’s director, Tricia Sibbons, describes the piece as “a meditation on the important things in life in a spellbinding hour.” Tswalo demands that you reflect on your own life and ask yourself why you are here.
For director Mahlatsi, this was an exciting journey to reconstruct poetry and deconstruct orthodox chronology in telling stories. This reminded me of words from one director I have worked with, who always emphasized, “Life is not linear. Shit happen abruptly, nonsensically and chaotically. We always have to carve the pieces back together ourselves.”
“There’s no clear beginning, middle and end in this piece – or at least when we planned it, we didn’t have that in mind. This is an experiment,” Mahlatsi said during the Q and As.
One wonders if such themes are the grapple of 2016’s black youth, to which Mahlatsi emphasizes the importance of re-imagining ourselves, hence the graceful imagery of romance between a black mother and father.
“Most of us grew up without our fathers; so Billy and I had to imagine the black family unbroken. Re-imagine our fathers being there and taking our mothers out. We had to imagine our fathers affording to order even water in a restaurant,” said Mahlatsi, to which the whole room bursted into laughter.
This observation concludes the play’s relevance at a time when young black men are remembering their fathers’ hair-cuts and black women remembering their grandmothers’ expression in fashion, the current natural hair explosion making the rounds and the re-writing of the narrative. This work dares us to tap into this lane of memory even further; to an infinite union and love between the black man and woman; between ourselves and God; between ourselves and ourselves; to go beyond everything and find the likeliness in all of us.
Asked about some glaring moments of the piece and what his intention was, Billy said he believes he was with God one day and said to Him, “chap, can you send me down there?” God chose for him a family and everyone who was going to lead him to his divine mission, but when he got here, there was much more to preoccupy him that he forgot why he came here. Now, in this piece, he is going back to the source (tswalo), hence he is on a trance with all the enmity abyss, but can still transcend to the spiritual world to recollect.
From this play, I found that aligning myself with my “purpose” is not really a task of learning new things, but rather that of remembering what I am already. Wow – what a time to be alive!