It may have been 10 years since South African performer and choreographer Vincent Mantsoe last graced Canadian shores, but if his opening night show was any indication, he hasn’t missed a beat.
In celebration of Black History Month, Mantsoe returned to the Firehall Arts Centre where he last performed in 2001 to bring audiences NTU/// and Skwatta. The former is a show that is described as an “idea that even if nothingness pervades, there is always something taking form.”
Mantsoe appears on a barren stage with nothing but a few strands of rope crisscrossed overhead and behind him. He moves deftly to music playing in the background, spinning, flailing and almost never stopping. At one point, the melody fades away leaving only the sound of his deep breathing, punctuated by occasional screaming and laughing while turned to the crowd. His face is filled with a raw emotion that closely resembles pain.
Raised in Johannesburg, Mantsoe is trained in multiple disciplines including traditional African dance, contemporary dance and even ballet. He also has spent some time learning martial arts, which is particularly dominant in a lot of his movements throughout his two pieces.
Skwatta follows NTU///, and is a commentary on informal South African “skwatta” settlement camps where Mantsoe spent some time growing up. The ideas of poverty, self conflict hope and the human spirit are all explored through his performance.
When the curtain is again drawn, he is found standing motionless near the back, in front of a huge piece of cloth hung from the rafters, himself also draped head-to-toe in a large sheet. After several minutes, he snaps off the cover and glides gracefully across the dust-covered stage, a light mist billowing in from somewhere in the distance. In an instant, he pounds his foot loudly on the floor like he’s ready to charge and sends a round of fists and kicks through the air with military-like precision.
The two shows last a total of 80 minutes with an intermission. Mantsoe will be at Firehall until Feb. 14, visit firehallartscentre.ca/onstage/ntuskwatta for more information.