Dance/Theatre Review: I Stand Corrected Finds The Gentle Heart Of Tragedy

I Stand Corrected at Artscape Cape Town. -- PHOTO: LISHATCHED26
I Stand Corrected at Artscape Cape Town. -- PHOTO: LISHATCHED26
Mamela Nyamza and her son, Amkele Mandla in Hatched. -- PHOTO: JOHN HOGG
Mamela Nyamza and her son, Amkele Mandla in Hatched. -- PHOTO: JOHN HOGG
Mamela Nyamza and her son, Amkele Mandla in Hatched. -- PHOTO: JOHN HOGG
Mamela Nyamza and her son, Amkele Mandla in Hatched. -- PHOTO: JOHN HOGG

One day before her wedding, a bride-to-be is raped, choked to death in a dark alley, dumped in a rubbish bin and her body set aflame.

That is the brutally horrific, hate-fuelled premise of I Stand Corrected, an artistic response to the "corrective" rape of lesbians in South Africa. The dance and theatre performance opened on Thursday at 72-13, as part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

But from that dark alley somehow springs forth one of the funniest, most uplifting and soul-stirring shows I have watched. I Stand Corrected is not about despair, rage or injustice.

It is a testament to the strength of the human spirit, the beauty of a connection between two individuals, and love.

South African choreographer Mamela Nyamza and British-Nigerian writer Mojisola Adebayo both perform in this collaborative work, which premiered in Cape Town, South Africa, in August 2012.

A bride walks down the aisle of a church, a radiant picture of joy and promise. But her smile starts to falter and eventually crumbles when she realises that her partner is a no-show.

The rest of the show unravels in parallel. Charlotte "Charlie" Browning (Adebayo) frantically searches for her love, while Zodwa Ndlovu (Nyamza) is an animated corpse, re-learning the ways of the world and recounting the events which lead to her murder.

Eventually, the two brush fingertips across a mortal divide, and love and loss mingle in a heart-wrenching duet.

The script, written by Adebayo, is cleverly crafted. She drags a microphone stand onto stage to address the crowd, and adjusts it. "Am I straight?" she asks.

Nyamza extends her leg in a standing split, and turns to the audience. "Am I straight?" she asks. That one question, as simple as it may sound, creaks under the weight of unspoken implications.

The pair also manage, somehow, to find hilarity in tragedy. Nyamza's zombie-like corpse emerges from a rubbish bin to dance with her new roommates: a discarded tampon, broken sunglasses and a crackly radio.

The show also hinges on the fact that both women are consummate performers. Adebayo swings from radiant to furious to wretched at the drop of a hat. She even raps, and delivers a spartan, haunting rendition of "our song": John Legend's Ordinary People.

Nyamza, a classically trained ballet dancer, is a powerful physical foil to Adebayo. She rarely speaks, but stands as a bastion against the onslaught of her partner's wild emotions.

While tear-jerkers in the theatre are aplenty, what makes a show powerful is when the stories are deeply personal, the wounds are fresh and the scars are still visible. In this case, both women are lesbians, and Nyamza's mother was raped and murdered in 1999.

Because of this personal connection, one can sometimes sense the anger seething beneath the surface. At points, the rhetoric verges on the strident, such as when Adebayo counters a charge of gayness being "un-African" by attacking Christianity for being the same.

I was grateful for the hour-long intermission between shows, which gave me enough time to steady myself after being put through the emotional wringer.

Hatched, Nyamza's autobiographical performance, was a quietly wonderful contrast to the first half of the night. It explored her different roles as a mother, ballet dancer, woman and artist.

A clothesline was stretched across the stage, hanging over an expanse of gauzy red cloth. She was clad in a calf-length white tutu, weighed down by wooden clothes pins which clacked as she moved en pointe.

The more she twisted and turned, the more she bound herself up in cloth, the wooden clothes pins falling off her tutu and scattering across the floor.

While the tension between her different selves was never fully resolved, it deepened an appreciation for her and her work.

At the end of Hatched, stripped bare of her pointe shoes, her tutu and clothes pins, we finally got to see who Nyamza is: a woman, tired and fragile, but wrapped around a core of strength and joy.

Book It

Double Bill: I Stand Corrected/Hatched

Where: 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road

When: Tonight (August 30), 9pm

Admission: $45 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)