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Shedding light during darkness through the power of performance

There is no single way for one to put into words the fountain of emotion felt by the University Currently Known as Rhodes during the #RUReferenceList protests against rape and sexual violence. However, the Rhodes Chamber Choir managed to encapsulate this through song and poetry.

I went to their first performance, titled ‘Light from Darkness’, and absolutely bawled my eyes out when they performed their adaptation of the struggle song ‘Senzenina’. The room was stunned into silence. This was conductor AJ Bethke’s aim – creating a space where these very specific feelings could be felt and expressed however people were comfortable with. A safe space was created, even if it were only for a single evening.

With purple bands wrapped around each performer’s arm in solidarity with survivors, the chamber choir conveyed the hurt and sorrow felt and experienced by the community with a multitude of carefully-selected songs. The evening was made more diverse with performances by various poets, their words echoing the common emotions associated with the theme of the night.IMG_4377

We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to see the choir and poets perform a second time with ‘Light from Darkness V.2.0’, and my time to share this experience arrived.

“We felt that to ignore these important issues when they were very much part of our community here would be a mistake. So we needed to create a space here in the university that was more of a healing space than a confrontational space, and music offers that,” conductor AJ Bethke explained when asked about his motive to put on a performance such as this. The audience and choir members alike were afforded a space “where feelings could be felt, acknowledged, and just allowed to be”.

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Whilst the people who chose to attend the performance were able to confront their thoughts and feelings about this issue through musical means, choir members were also able to embark on a journey of healing alongside each other. This performance and process towards it enabled members “to let out the feelings and the angst that was there, but also lift people up afterwards and not leave them withering in the darkness”, AJ said.

As well as contributing to a process of healing, the choir’s performance was aimed at raising awareness constructively. AJ explained that “I think any confrontational violence in any way is not going to help. I prefer to see something constructive through poetry, through music, through dance, through listening as a process of non-violent reaction.”

Megan van der Nest, also a member of the choir, worked alongside AJ in constructing the evening and the pieces that were performed to reflect accurately the choir’s stance by selecting lyrics and pieces of poetry to contribute to this narrative:

There was a suggestion by a member of the choir to have the struggle piece ‘Senzenina’ alongside ‘Ukuthula’, which means ‘peace’, because a few members of the choir are actually survivors of sexual violence, and some of the pieces came from their experiences, some of them were suggested by members of the choir, so it wasn’t only survivors speaking but there were survivors in the group. So we were trying to create a space where they could feel safe as well.

On the night where the protests at Rhodes reached their peak, Megan explained that she was a part of a choir that was “on the verge of falling apart”. With so many conflicting opinions about the role of the choir and how visible it should be during such a tumultuous time, they decided to take action. This led to the creation of a workshop that was geared towards the final product of their ‘Light from Darkness’ performances. Megan said that:

There were a lot of dissenting opinions, people who felt that the choir should have been more visible in the protests themselves, and they personally couldn’t do that for their own reasons, that being in the protests would have been too upsetting for them, and others that felt that violence and intimidation wasn’t the way to go. So there was a lot of tension. And I give AJ full credit for diffusing that tension. We managed to create a safe space where we could all be heard instead of tearing each other down.

Not only did the chamber choir achieve full awareness of what music can do when integrated with these protests, they managed to create a sense of strength amongst one another as they grew through this process. Megan explained that “Going to the protests with people screaming and shouting can be traumatic in and of itself. But being in a very healing space, having a discussion with AJ leading us, we were feeling much closer to one another … There was so much hurt and anger and we managed to come through that much stronger as a result. The value of that cannot be underestimated.”

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Words of poetry in ‘Senzenina/Ukuthula’

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To view their performance of their adaptation of ‘Senzenina/Ukuthula’, click on the YouTube link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6IPKhsk8fo (please note that I did not have a tripod so my recording is not as good as it should be, but I hope it still does the performance justice and moves you as much as it moved me.)

 

Photos and words by Gabi Bellairs-Lombard 

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Trading soccer balls for smiles

A warm winter morning on Wednesday 27 July saw a bus full of 40 children from Luzuko Pre-School pour onto Rhodes University’s Kings Sports Field, making their way towards the soccer balls and their coaches for the day waiting for them by the goal posts.

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Two students from Botha House volunteered to organise the event for the children as their way of trading 67 minutes in honour of Nelson Mandela day, which evidently did not go unappreciated. Pamela Sandi, one of three Luzuko practitioners, says she is always grateful for days such as these because the children are exposed to opportunities they will not find in the location. “These kids are from very poor families as the community that surrounds the school is poor. Some of them are sick, they have HIV, some of them are from homes where they cannot have something to eat, but we are here to accommodate them,” said Sandi.

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With sport in general, there is always an emphasis that should be placed on developing children from a grassroots level. However, it is difficult to achieve this when schools like Luzuko are not supported by the relevant structures. “It’s important [for children to play sport at a young age]…because then they can do it in the future to see ‘maybe I want to be a rugby player’ or ‘maybe I want to be a soccer player’, just to give them the opportunity,” explained Sandi.

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Whilst Luzuko is managing on their existing finances and structures, Sandi is adamant that “we need help, any kind of help. We don’t even have soccer balls.” Sandi has taken several trips to the Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture in Grahamstown, as well as sent them emails, about being provided basic sporting equipment for the children. She has yet to hear back from them: “I don’t know what else to do because this department does not do enough [for people like us].”

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Lebogang Sonazi, the Community Engagement representative from Botha House that helped organise this event, said that people need to understand fully what “giving back” means: “Sometimes you have to give without expecting anything back.” An avid soccer player himself, Sonazi thinks that incorporating sports such as soccer into children’s school days will help them stay off the streets.

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In terms of how the community can help, Sonazi thinks that “there is no need to have more than one soccer ball…so if you could donate to those in need then we could achieve a lot as a community.”

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Photos and words by Gabi Bellairs-Lombard

Rhyming and reasoning with Shakespeare

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Learners and Rhodes Students collaborate to recite lines from Shakespeare’s plays as part of an exercise. Photo: Nereesha Patel

William Shakespeare is not everybody’s cup of tea. Most of us have had to study one or two of the bard’s works in high school, learning – or at least trying to learn – the intricacies of the Middle English language that he used to put his plays and sonnets together.

With five schools in Grahamstown already participating in workshops as part of the second annual Shakespeare Schools Festival, Tumi Motsisi, a Drama student at Rhodes University and the co-ordinator for the festival, put together an extra workshop featuring Shakespeare’s plays as part of Trading Live for Mandela Day. 13 Grade 11 learners from Nathaniel Nyaluza Secondary Senior School, which was not part of the festival, attended this event at the Oppidan Reading Room. 

With fellow festival performers also volunteering in running the workshop, Motsisi’s main goal was to help make Shakespeare more accessible and easier to understand. 

“As soon as a child realises that they can speak the Shakespearean language, almost every other performance endeavour is a little bit easier,” she said. 

Motsisi also aimed to help these learners, whose school curriculum does not cover Shakespeare, gain confidence in themselves as performers, as well as students of the English language. 

“A lot of the time, you’re told that you can’t do Shakespeare because English isn’t your first language, but as soon as they understand what’s being said, it’s a really magical thing. As soon as it happens, it’s like, ‘I can do anything’.”

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Shakespeare drama workshop co-ordinator, Tumi Motsisi (right), talks to the students during an exercise. Photo: Nereesha Patel

The learners went through a series of warm-up exercises that concentrated on spontaneity, improvisation skills, trust-building and teamwork before getting into the Shakespearean section of the workshop. One such exercise saw the learners pairing up and “sculpting” each other into their own unique interpretations of Lady Macbeth and the mischievous Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Through this exercise, Motsisi emphasised that the character archetypes, the plots and the themes seen within Shakespeare’s plays can be relatable.

The last exercise had the learners reciting lines from Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing. When they were gathered together, each learner was able to speak their lines with conviction and enthusiasm.

It is hoped that the school will officially become part of the Shakespeare Schools Festival next year. With the students having enjoyed the workshop and engaged with the material, this seems like a strong possibility. All the world’s a stage, and there’s always room for more performers.

 

The many faces of childhood

With a painted face, a child has the confidence to take on their own little world and adopt an entirely new persona. This often embodies the bravery of their favourite superhero, the fierceness of their most feared animal or the beauty of the princess they dream of becoming. As we grow older, we expose ourselves to the harsh realities of the world and often forget how a simple layer of paint over our faces could change our outlook. On Tuesday 26 July, student volunteers from Rhodes University used their weekly slot devoted to St Mary’s Development and Care Centre (DCC) to add to the children’s daily routine and include more excitement to their week by organising a session of face painting.  The children beamed with exhilaration as they transformed into their favourite characters and animals.

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After school the children play in the backyard, awaiting lunch time.
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Lunch time has ended and the children are ready to make their way upstairs to get their faces painted.
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A volunteer begins the face painting as the other children patiently await their turn.
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Faces painted and ready to conquer, the girls flip through a book featuring their favourite Barbies.
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“Ready to fight Superman”, he says.
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With the sweetest smile and her face adorned in flowers.

 

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“How can you be scared of tigers if they are so pretty?
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The Queen of Hearts sits as still as a statue, trying to restrict herself from giggling.

Words and photos by Khinali Bagwandeen

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