We have heard the new-age adage "less is more". This is surely the case with this amazing production about a man who is remembered for his teachings, a man of many words. Biko's Quest is a portrayal of the life and death of one of South Africa's political martyrs, Steve Bantu Biko. It draws its original work from the Steve Biko Foundation's exhibition: "Biko's Quest - for a True Humanity". It translates photography into dance, song and performance.
The story is not only about Biko, but also salutes many struggle heroes who were detained without trial and some who died and, up to today, we do not know the cause(s) of their deaths at the hands of the police. You are taken back to the days of Sophiatown, the fashion of the day, the great music of Dorothy Masuka, Miriam Makeba and the awesome (gymnastic) dance moves of the time that leave you wondering how many Gold medals South Africa would have collected in Olympic gymnastics.
Darkest era in South African history
While your feet are dancing and your heart racing, the darkest era in South African history is thrown at you: the forceful removals of people, breaking down of families, police brutality, passes for black people. You are moved to the times of early uprisings, Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement, police massacres and, finally, the brutal killing of the man and the whole drama around his funeral.
It is a beautiful visual story aided by good music (sung and recorded), out-of-this-world choreography and brilliant acting. Artistic director and choreographer Jacqueline Manyaapelo and her team deliver a timeless production that encourages us never to forget the past and ensure that all those gross human rights violations are never to be repeated ever again. My hat goes off to director Mandla Mbothwe and the 16-member cast. The material they really had to work with was photos and each cast member was given the freedom to improvise and bring the photos they were given into life through, emotion, dance and movement. They are geniuses for sure. You cannot not mention the contribution of Nolufefe Mtshabe, musical co-director of the world-acclaimed Xhosa version of the famous Opera, Carmen (U-Carmen eKhayelitsha). She is the voice trainer and she did an excellent job, the a capella music rendered by the cast is of the highest quality and speaks to the core of your soul.
Simple but brilliant
The stage design is simple but brilliant, sound effects and lighting are used intelligently to move you from one era to the next, the creative team and the production crew outdid themselves. This is a truly a proudly South African production that we can boast about.
The production worked very well for me; reminded me that the freedom that we enjoy today did not come cheaply and the only way that we can show gratitude to those whose lives were sacrificed is to continue the efforts to heal the wounds of the past and together carve the way forward as united South Africans, united in diversity and diverse in unity.
Biko's Quest is on at Artscape Theatre until 16 September, 2012. Tickets cost R90; there is a 10 percent discount for pensioners, students and learners (five to 18). Groups of 20 or more get one ticket for R50.
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