There is a madness—or insanity—to it,” says choreographer PJ Sabbagha about the themes in his Dance Umbrella offering, Back. ‘Memories trigger other memories and, even though they’re unrelated, you connect the dots and internalise the emotions—suddenly you’re vulnerable — plunged into the pits of hell.”
Back is a showcase of both timid, introspective motions and brazenly aggressive ones by performers Dada Masilo and Lulu Mlangeni.
Sabbagha gesticulates frenetically as he attempts to pin down what he has tried to encapsulate in the single word ‘back”. ‘It starts at recovery I suppose. Recovery from anything: from addiction, from injury, from heartbreak — and branches out into the importance of having to have the ability to live in the immediate, and not live in potential futures,” he says.
While it might begin there, Back mostly explores this theme of retrospection through relationships, as reflected in the spatial relationship between Masilo and Mlangeni.
Sabbagha says the piece cannot be ascribed to any particular personal experience; the message should be read universally. ‘It’s not about any one kind of relationship, but how they [relationships] are dynamic and layered. I mean, even when we’re alone we’re in a relationship,” he says.
‘We started by searching our own memories, our own desires, our minds and our memories of relationships. How they come together and how they come apart. Once we’re with someone, they’re in our bodies from top to bottom all the time.
‘Motion cross-fades from one body to the next, they learn and exchange each other’s [movement] vocabulary, just as with normal interaction and, just as with normal interaction, we reject bits of each other as well.”
Masilo, picking up on this thread, says: ‘There’s a scene where [Mlangeni is] trying to take my hand and for me there’s a sense of ‘I did want you, now I don’t’. There’s that constant tension that I would want someone in my space — and then wouldn’t.”
Back will be performed on March 1 and 2 at 7pm and 2pm respectively at the Wits Downstairs Theatre