Pics by Stella Olivier
Gerard Bester describes his role as Associate Director for Season2 of The Centre for the Less Good Idea as dealing with one’s own ego and insecurities.
“It goes in waves, sometimes one feels useless and awful, other times one feels charged and creative,” he says.
It would be forgivable for a theatre enthusiast to romanticise the process in their minds because Bester, together with Nhlanhla Mahlangu and Mwenya Kabwe are theatre geniuses. The three of them drive the theatrical elements for the centre’s second season happening in Maboneng from tomorrow until Saturday.
Launched in March, the Centre is very much about process and exploring secondary ideas that come up when cracks and fissures occur in the initial big idea. It nurtures artists in finding the less good idea, and creates and supports experimental, collaborative and cross-disciplinary arts projects, over two seasons every year.
Founded by William Kentridge in November 2016, it provides a space for short form work whose life does not necessarily belong in a theatre or a gallery.
The first season, curated by performance poet, Lebo Mashile, choreographer/dancer, Gregory Maqoma and young director and playwright, Khayelihle Dom Gumede, pushed the boundaries of alternative spaces and language.
The second season is heavily nuanced by the collision of art and technology as brought in by co-curators, Tegan Bristow; Nhlanhla Mahlangu and urban culture entrepreneur, Jamal Nxedlana.
Bristow is an interactive media artist, lecturer at the Digital Arts Division of the Wits School of the Arts and co-founder of the Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival. She curated the Post African Futures exhibition for the Goodman Gallery in 2015 out of her research into technology, art and culture in Africa. She’s a supporter and an active player in the futurist movement that is characterising the African arts landscape right now, where science fiction and African futurism are not only themes but the approach, and technology is a medium for creating art. It is art that interrogates the present and shows history’s intrinsic link to the future.
Bristow invited inventive theatre maker and academic, Mwenya Kabwe as part of over 40 Johannesburg based multi-disciplinary practitioners involved in this season. What they came up with laid the foundation for the sprouting of ideas that came after.
“One of the first conversations that Tegan and I had was about a series of short descriptive futuristic African worlds that I had written for a research project. She liked how they dealt with time and space and for their visual quality. These got called on quite early in the first brainstorming session for Season 2, as points of inspiration to launch from,” Kabwe explains.
She also collaborates with Bristow and musician Cameron Louis Harris, on an interactive performance piece called Jacaranda Time, performed by dancer/choreographer Sonia Radebe and actor Namatshego Khutsoane.
But her shorts are linked to the bigger story of Edward Nkoloso, a Zambian grade school science teacher in the 1960s, who around Zambia’s independence, established a space academy with the objectives of space travel. His story was made popular in urban culture by photographer Cristina de Middel and Ghanaian filmmaker Frances Bodomo’s short film, Afronauts. It’s a story that resonates deeply with Kabwe (who is Zambian herself) which she presents in a production of A Zambian Space Odyssey.
“Edward Nkoloso is presented in the world as a parody in slightly foolish ways of space travel, but he is also being reclaimed as a revolutionary whose metaphor for Zambia’s independence meant literally soaring to new heights and reaching the moon. A Zambian Space Odyssey is a live proposal in reading him in these two different ways,” says Kabwe.
Known for her experimental, workshopped and directed theatre and performance work, it is her form of writing that she is experimenting with here.
In addition to curating, Mahlangu, who worked on the first season as one of the musical directors, gets to showcase his seminal solo work, Chant, directed by Bester.
Mahlangu’s ingenuity as a musician sets him apart as a dancer/choreographer and performer. Bester, a performer who’s been called a “Post Modern Anti Hero Character” due to his innate connection to movement and ability to break the fourth wall when engaging an audience, comes also with his arts administration experience.
The two met 20 years ago when Bester was managing a programme Mahlangu was part of as a student and they have worked together ever since. They now revisit Chant, which premiered at the Julidans Festival in Amsterdam where it was commissioned in 2011.
The work is Mahlangu’s ode to the women who raised him.
“Nhlanhla has this extraordinary, rich memory and connection to his own history that speaks beyond the personal. What was an important realization when revisiting the work, was how to really honour the skills that Nhlanhla has and to distill each of those. There’s a new emotional intensity to the piece and the idea is to connect and to hold on to that,” Bester says.
The word Chant and the force behind it is a constant motif in Mahlangu’s work with other titles including The Worker’s Chant and Gqisha! The Chant That Calls, a collaboration with Dom Gumede.
“For me the chant is the literal and the metaphor of the constant endlessness of blackness and struggle. A chant is an endless song that you sing until your body goes into an altered state of consciousness. My work is driven by music and a chant is how I look at black lives, history and future,” Mahlangu explains.
He’s also created a piece inspired by Kabwe’s series of shorts with the music and score based on children’s games that black kids grow up reciting at school and playing in the streets.
“There are deep-seated political connotations to these children’s games and I’m highlighting those,” says Mahlangu.
For more info on the programme and bookings for Season 2 of the Centre for the Less Good Idea (October 11 – 14) visit www.lessgoodidea.com