Sightlines – DAY THREE: 25 April 2015

It’s our fourth instalment of Sightlines [n. any of the lines of sight between the spectators and the stage.] and we take a look at some of the acts from the third day.

DAY THREE: 25 April 2015

“Heela, did you watch Mora’s show?” This was the start of one of the last conversations I had today. As the final day of theatre of the Maitisong Festival came to a close I found myself wishing I had multiple bodies which could have experienced the many shows of the day; especially the poetry show at Mantlwaneng with TJ Dema, Dasha Kelly and Aether.

With the exception of “Today It’s Me”, “X” and the two shows at Mantlwaneng, all the shows on day three were free entry. You’d think that this would result in masses upon masses of theatre consumers yet the turnout was poor during the daytime. Riding in a combi down Segoditshane Road, I kept seeing groups of people walking in all directions and it was only when we reached the national stadium that I remembered that it was the BDF Day celebrations.

The hoards of people walking and chatting and risking getting run over by annoyed drivers was a sign of just how many people were close enough to attend any one of the free exhibitions but just didn’t go. This took me back to my conversation with Zeus when he remarked that Maitisong Festival “has become… I hate to say this, but it’s become elitist and I don’t know how that happened.” Is this really a festival for the people or only some of the people? Are the free shows being marketed to the people who will value the craft rather than the price? That is to say, are we giving the free stuff to people who should be grateful for being given the chance to say “I attended the Maitisong Festival.”?

Satjilombe (Ndingo Johwa) did an amazing job at Thapong Visual Arts Centre. In his percolated, deep, velvet voice he sang his timeless hits in Kalanga to a sparse audience. It was a hot day so people took refuge in the shade and very few people danced. Johwa even threatened the audience saying: “If you remain seated when I start this next song then I’m leaving the stage.” A few people got up and shimmied for a short while before returning to their seats. In a true moment to celebrate the community aspect of the #elevate theme, Johwa called Shanti Lo and Kearoma Rantao on stage to sing his hit Tshwene with him as he showcased the dance moves he sings about teaching the baboon.

In the evening I made my way to Maitisong to watch Donald Molosi’s play on Philly Lutaaya, Today It’s Me, and Sky Blue Dance Hub’s new work, X.

Molosi is a very, very smart young man who understands how to use his clout to not only draw attention to fundamental subject matter, but also how to create commercial work with a message. Today It’s Me isn’t sold to you as a play about HIV/AIDS, but that is the driving force of the work. Based on the life story of Philly Lutaaya, the Ugandan musician and HIV/AIDS educationalist and activist, it focuses on the part of his life when he was diagnosed with the virus until his death.

Molosi was joined on stage by four Batswana actors: Kgomotso Tshwenyego, Teto Mokaila, Lebogang Motubudi and Zanele Tumelo. The music was played live by a band led by Kabo Leburu.

Tshweneyego’s performance as Lutaaya’s mother, Jacqueline, was wonderful. She had a heart-felt approach to the role and stayed on top of her words rather than hiding behind her accent, which was well nuanced. Mokaila was the hardest worked actor as he played three different characters – a Congolese journalist, an English doctor and an exaggerated Idi Amin – each requiring a different accent. His accent work was impressive, but more impressive were his physicality shifts between each characterisation. Zanele Tumelo, who I watched deliver a good performance in Paya’s The Incident, stepped up her game as she portrayed a Tanzanian nurse. Though the role required little speaking, her presence and her offering of herself to her fellow actors was commendable as she remained engaged with each address.

Motubudi held the action together as his character, Mr Patel – an Indian with an African heart, acted as the narrator in the present time of the play. His performance was surprisingly contained, and it felt genuine. Overall, the accent work in the play was good, no single actor could be blamed as being the lazy one or the one who struggled the most – something MC for the evening, Tshepo Ntshole, made a point of driving home.

Molosi’s added advantage of having honed his accent over years of practice, and staging the play off-Broadway in New York, didn’t set him outside of the cast. Though he only ever speaks to his brother, Abraham – played by American stage and television actor, Donn Swaby – when he isn’t addressing the audience, Molosi existed as part of the ensemble rather than the exceptional artist he is. I had moments of looking at his eyes – which he used effectively to transform his face and take the world to the character of Philly – and wondering whether this was the same Donald I’d seen yesterday.

Molosi delivered a touching performance, even finding moments to invoke a smile on my face with his singing in English and Luganda– though incomparable to the smooth voice of Lutaaya. The performance ended with Botswana AIDS statistics being broadcast for the audience and we were ushered into a forum discussion. This was – after the dancers’ persistent errors – my least favourite part of the experience. The discussion itself felt forced and badly facilitated, leaving it feeling like a renegade press conference.

Due to the discussion dragging on, audience members for X were waiting outside as we made our way out of the auditorium to allow the production to set up. Yet another festival delay.

After having waited weeks and weeks for the premier of X, I had a lot of expectations – least of which was to be moved. Unfortunately, I sat through the performance uncertain if I had understood the publicity drive for the production. I had been promised “the secrets we all conceal about ourselves” and “dance (which) explores and celebrates the complexity of the human condition”, yet I felt confused about what was happening dramaturgically. The ensemble didn’t seem collectively present on the stage.

The choreography by Tumisang Baatshwana, company artistic director, and Lesh Otsile seemed too weighty for the ensemble. The high octane music, blaring through the boosted speaker system wasn’t met by the dancers’ performances and they seemed to be racing through – trying to catch up with the music and the choreography.

The costumes for the production, made by Opelo Letshwithi, were beautiful and there was no shortage of them. There were two solos in the production, and neither one of them spoke to the other. Where one felt inspired by Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, the other felt like a standalone work.

After the show, I overheard conversations where people were debating why they liked the production and I was alarmed by how many people liked it because it was “different” though this difference wasn’t attributed to anything in particular. The question then, I guess, is whether I had poisoned my view of the production due to having expected something different and polished? I don’t have an answer to this just yet.

So far, we have seen dancers and singers, break dancers and jazz musicians, and each act has done its bit to elevate the Maitisong Festival. As we go into the last day, where we all converge on Molapo Crossing Piazza to hear the sounds of Bhudaza (Lesotho), The Metrophones (Botswana) and CAFCA (South Africa), I look forward to joining others as we celebrate what’s been a diverse festival. To answer the question: No. I didn’t get to watch Mora’s show – but I heard it went in true, provocative Moratiwa Molema fashion. Tomorrow, for one last time, we will #elevate #maiti15.

Katlego K Kol-Kes is an ARTivist, Writer, theatre producer and founder of the Queer Shorts Showcase Festival based in Gaborone. She loves motogo wa madila and has a weakness for Janet Jackson. Her writing spans lifestyle and human interest features, poetry, and music. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, her blog  and via her website.