Hurtling down High Street we’re late, again. Punctuality at a festival seems oxymoronic. Squeezing into the hall as the doors shut is becoming a practiced ritual. Out of breath and disoriented by the frenzy of activity that is currently the Grahamstown Arts Festival, we take our seats.
A canvas mesh lies suspended above the stage, a material escarpment. It’s the debut performance of Moffie, Standard Bank award winner in the category of dance, Bailey Snyman’s commissioned piece for the festival. Jay Pather, the Festival chairperson introduces the performance. He notes that whilst Snyman’s award obviously reflects virtuosity in dance, it’s also awarded in recognition of his capacity for creative collaboration. In this instance, Snyman has worked with author, Andre Carl van der Merwe to produce a dance adaption of his book of the same name. The book is a chronicling of van der Merwe’s time spent in the South African military during the 1980’s and the subsequent feelings of alienation and abuse he received for his sexual orientation.
Moffie is executed powerfully, the physicality of the dance performance conveying the uneasy commentary of the piece. Through dance, Snyman manages to convey van der Merwe’s tragic account of abuse whist also bringing the piece into a broad commentary that moves beyond the book’s specific story. Whilst dealing with such serious subject matter, the show also manages to not take itself too seriously, flirting with ‘fab’ at times. This is fully realised during a camp dance sequence performed to ‘Die Stem’.
No production about homosexuality in the military would be complete without attention being paid to the US military’s only recently repealed, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. Its inclusion into the performance frames the issue within the contemporary debate. A soundtrack of an interview with a US Senator defending the US Army’s position plays as a hessian sack is placed over the head of Snyman. The proceeding routine, utilsing several more sacks and ending with Snyman seated, surrounded by hessian sacked soldiers pointing carbines at him, immediately draws the audience towards the imagery of Guantanamo Bay. The irony of the continued use of this policy despite other glaringly more troubling issues surrounding the US military is effectively made.
The shows late start means panicked audience members leave before the performance ends, so they can make their next show. The clanking of metal as theatre faux passers leave their seats is an unfortunate addition to the shows soundtrack. The empty seats left at the end, an untrue reflection on an otherwise compelling performance.