What: Figure of 8 Winter Season: Maze of the Mind
When: July 3- 6, 2024
Where: Baxter Studio, Cape Town
Bookings: Webtickets  

Director: Grant van Ster
Choreography: Figure of 8 Dance Theatre in collaboration with the cast
Set and costumes: Figure of 8 Dance Theatre
Sound design: Shaun Oelf
Lighting design: Luke Ellenbogen
Performers: Keenun J. Wales, Mahle Dlambulo, Mbulelo Mzazi, Mila Sobolewski, Shaun Oelf, Thalia Alberts and Veronique Reagon

Figure of 8 Winter Season: Maze of the Mind

Figure of 8’s Winter Season: Maze of the Mind is brilliant dance theatre. It is an intoxicating and seamless bricolage of performance, design and narrative. Maze of the Mind was devised by Figure of 8, in collaboration with the cast of seven. Keenun J. Wales, Mahle Dlambulo, Mbulelo Mzazi, Mila Sobolewski, Shaun Oelf, Thalia Alberts and Veronique Reagon are from diverse backgrounds and spaces and Maze is compacted with their stories. The piece begins with a mesmeric projection – a close-up of Thalia Alberts’ face. Her eyes are gazing at and into us, blinking to adjust to the glare. Can we look back into the maze of her mind and of the others as their bodies coil around the space?

The setting and costumes riff off a psychiatric ward/facility. Seven bodies burrow their way through physical and imagined spaces of their minds. The neutral palette of the costumes in earth colours makes them all similar. They have shed aspects of their selves in this place but within constraints, cheerfulness peaks through in their gear – a tutu over leggings for instance.

There are six door like blocks made which make up the set but which transcend being props and spatial dividers. The blocks are like bodies in their own right – things which move in the dark and dread of night- and are also extensions of the dancers. They are their doubles, their alter egos; spaces to project their shadows and dreams (imaged by the lighting). The blocks are made from polystyrene (covered in thick paper and painted on with a mixture of wood glue) and are weighty, slapping and pounding through the space as they are assembled and dissembled. Within the shape shifting, they become playground, prison, womb, mind maze. The protagonists in this liminal space play with each other, taunt each other, hide, compete, look after and out for each other as they move – together and apart. 

Maze of the Mind is conceptual dance with an accessible narrative arc, transfiguring the mind on stage as unfathomable and inviting us to engage with the stories of the protagonists who inhabit this space. They inhabit the space and their bodies constitute the space. There is a haunting meta text with the dance/physical movement pinging off the narrative; stories.

Luke Ellenbogen’s lighting design heightens each move – shadows of bodies, blocks, gestures and expressions. I found Maze of the Mind remarkable in its expression of physical theatre – which goes beyond dance theatre. The body is the medium and we see this in the intricate use and focus on gesture on the dancer’s faces and through their limbs. The skill set is extraordinary but it is not just about showcasing dance but about the stories that they are extruded in this beautiful dance theatre experience. We are amazed and we gasp – wow – as we see bodies clambering up the rafters in the theatre (yes) but where are they escaping to and from what? What are they hiding from in the night of terrors?  Can we also go along for the climb, ride?

In the sound and noise of this world, what does it all signify? We are lost in a fugue, of not being able to switch off our brains as associations bombard us. Shaun Oelf’s stunning sound design conjures up the persistent yapping at our brains, punctuated by howls. Howls of anguish? Release?  I will leave you to contemplate that when you watch Maze of the Mind

We whirl “round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel …Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel. “ This is a quote from the 1968 song, Windmills of Your Mind. Narrative spoiler alert: Lines from the song are played in the last scene and consolidates the intricacies of Maze of the Mind. The song, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and music by Michel Legrand conjure up a hallucinogenic vista of the mind but were not inspired by taking recreational drugs. In an interview Marilyn Bergman said: ‟When I was seven I had my tonsils out… As they gave me the ether, I remember this circular descent into a sleep state.” Alan Bergman, said that “he was trying to evoke a swirling feeling of anxiety” and “you can’t turn your brain off”. https://ig.ft.com/life-of-a-song/windmills-of-your-mind.htm

Maze of the Mind is multi-layered and intensely nuanced- so much so I need to see it again – to absorb the narratives and trajectories of the protagonists. There is a fabulous scene where the protagonists look like they are slipping into sludge; sinking into quicksand. They look flummoxed and yet there is glee and a sense of submitting and letting go.  This scene received shrieks of laughter from some in the audience. Laughter or hysteria?  I didn’t find it funny but it is has a comical almost vaudeville aesthetic so I get the laughter. It must be terrifying to lose sense of gravity as one’s body drops into a liquefied sludge of soil which has lost its strength and cannot support the weight of one’s body. If one is in a state induced by chemical or another high (such as creativity), perhaps it is immaterial as one slips and slides, apparently without stricture. Then one goes with the maze of our minds- letting go. There is something liberating in that – letting go. Do not miss Maze of the Mind.

Cracks of shadows: Figure of 8 Winter Season: Maze of the Mind, July 2024, Baxter Studio.
Figure of 8 Winter Season: Maze of the Mind, July 2024, Baxter Studio.

✳ Featured image: Figure of 8 Winter Season: Maze of the Mind. Pics supplied.