Review: Darkroom Contemporary’s Memoryhouse on stage, Kucheza Afrika Festival, Baxter April 2021

What: Memoryhouse- Darkroom Contemporary Dance Theatre, Cape Town, at the hybrid Kucheza Afrika Festival On stage: April 6 and 7, 2021, at the Baxter Theatre, 7.30pm. Tickets R80 and R120. Book at Webtickets:   Featuring: Darkroom Contemporary’s Farnel Smart and Tania Mteto   Choreography and concept: Louise Coetzer   Original score: Matthijs Van Dijk    

This is a quickie review of Darkroom Contemporary’s new work, Memoryhouse, which I saw yesterday at the FDR (final dress rehearsal) at the Baxter. This rousing new piece of dance theatre was staged last night – March 6 and is on tonight- March 7.30pm as part of the hybrid Kucheza Afrika Festival, presented by The South African State Theatre. The Baxter season is in association with The Baxter Theatre.

The intense and multi-layered Memoryhouse shares the bill with the beautiful and elegiac, Trapped, presented by Unmute Dance Company. Both companies are based in Cape Town. Kucheza was formerly Dance Umbrella. The 2020 physical festival was halted by Covid and lockdown and for this edition, 2021, a hybrid festival is on the boards- in Pretoria and Cape Town. All the productions are being streamed on YouTube on the SAST channel. The digital stage provides an opportunity for audiences around the country, to see what has been created during this strange time of Covid. There may been lockdown restrictions but creatives have continued to make work. A shout-out to SAST for providing this platform and for presenting work, on stage, in front on audiences, according to lockdown regulations. The works are being filmed at the theatres for streaming.

In lockdown, I read several books about the brain, neuroscience and memory. An image I have is of people being operated on while awake and surgeons watching their brain scans; tracking movement in the brains. Watching Memoryhouse and immediately that was what pings for me. There is a TV set which could be a medical monitor. It is beeping on the one side of the stage and a set of stacked TVs is on the other side -beeping, jarring, looping, flickering. I felt like I was watching memories spool out in front of me. The figures (dancers) attempt to connect – emotionally and perhaps physically with the monitors. They are shut off, cordoned off from the screens. The figures skirt around and towards the screens but cannot connect with the objects. There are white boxes on stage-. They are solid forms so we cannot see what is inside. We don’t know what they hold or if anything is stored in these boxes. Are memories quarantined inside?

The original score by Matthijs Van Dijk belts out sounds; looping around, scrapes, squeaks, melodies, tik tok; sounds I know and don’t know; sounds I am trying to place and cannot grasp; in the moment. I need to hear this score again. I want to watch Memoryhouse, streamed online, earphones on, so I can process the intricacies; the full brunt of the score and the movement by the dance artists as they push and pull their bodies in this landscape of flicker (monitors, screens) and blankness (boxes).

Memoryhouse is a work which speaks to me of impact – calibrating and assessing how we are now in relation to memories – on a graph – on a scan. In this strange time, many of us are scanning and trying to get a sense of self and are intensely aware of ‘now’ as compared to ‘before’- before the pandemic. People post on social media with hashtags like #throwback #before, grappling with the fugue of now and the memory of when it all seemed a lot more defined. It is complex and difficult to articulate. We are living in year two of the pandemic. We have no context, at the moment, to look ‘back’; to process what we are going through.  This is where art comes in –to encourage us to engage and reflect. Louise Coetzer does this in Memoryhouse – jolting us out of our state of blackout. In a recent interview, for TheCapeRobyn, she said: “There is also a feeling of haziness to the staging, cordoning the dancers off in a literal ‘house’ where the past loops and repeats.” Try get the Baxter tonight, to experience Memoryhouse, on stage. If not, catch Memoryhouse, online on the SAST YouTube channel, on April 24.

Memoryhouse, presented by Darkroom Contemporary Dance Theatre at the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town, April 6 and 7, 2021, as part of The Kucheza Afrika Festival, presented by The South African State Theatre. This photo by Oscar O’Ryan, take n at FDR on April 6.

Photos by Darkroom Contemporary’s Oscar O’Ryan.