28/11/2016 05:57 SAST | Updated 28/11/2016 07:59 SAST

Gqisha! The Chant That Calls at The Wits So Solo Festival

Dom Gumede and Raezeen Wentworth

The Wits campus is an interesting dichotomy. While its tumultuous battle with #FeesMustFall is ongoing, it continues to host to some of the best theatre in the country. It's like Sophiatown in Apartheid ridden South Africa in the 50s - a time and place that bore the golden age of SA's jazz scene. And just like then, the politics of the day feed the art.

So Solo, the festival of one-person plays at Wits returns for its third season from November 23 to December 4 with promises of thought provoking theatre of excellent standard.

The opening play, Gqisha! The Chant That Calls, is the official So Solo commissioned production for 2016 created by Wits graduates, Dom Gumede and Raezeen Wentworth and performed by Nhlanhla Mahlangu.

The three artists have a good rapport from working closely together on a number of productions which allows them a short hand that gives way to the soul in their work.

Both Gumede and Wentworth, who are life partners, are experienced in writing, directing and performing. They worked on a piece called When We Are Naked included in the book, Social Work Artfully, a collaboration between researchers, educators and practitioners in Canada and South Africa, with the aim of revitalizing the power of arts –informed approaches to social justice.

As performers they collaborated with fine artist, Kemang Wa Lehulere on his Amnesia series of exhibitions exploring the routine of history and the lack thereof.

Gumede directed Broken Chant performed by 2017 Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance winner Sonia Radebe and co-choreographed by Mahlangu.

He has two Naledi Theatre awards including Best Director for his adaptation of literary giant, Can Themba's short story, Crepuscule, also featuring Mahlangu at the Market Theatre.

Gumede is currently the inaugural theatre curator of William Kentridge's art centre and biennial-style season of multi-disciplinary work called The Less Good Idea due to launch in March 2017.

Nhlanhla Mahlangu

Mahlangu is a multi-talented beast with skills as a dancer, choreographer, actor and musician.

The word Chant is a recurring thread that brands some of the trio's work with Mahlangu's up- coming dance piece titled, Worker's CHANT to be performed at Dance Umbrella 2017 at the Wits Theatre Complex.

"As practitioners we keep making the same thing differently. A chant can be act of lament. The word helps encapsulate our different subject matters and how we deal," Gumede explains.

Gqisha is the Zulu war chant used in preparation for battle. It also refers to the gathering of energy for the task ahead and the production considers this both literally and figuratively.

With Gqisha! The Chant That Calls, the trio highlight the weight of personal history and the fraught narrative of intergenerational dispossession.

The text is based on the history of Mahlangu's family dating back to his grandfather.

"I'm fascinated by the notion of the systematically excluded which is the scenario in South Africa."

"It's my investigation into understanding violence; and how violent exclusion can be on a personal level. It's about the violence of living in a shack for instance to the violence I experienced as a teenager living through the transition period of the 1990s. It's cathartic for me," Mahlangu says.

On a deeper level the play reflects the country's socio-political landscape and the war dance so many people are going through in pursuit of a better and inclusive South Africa.

"I'm fascinated by the notion of the systematically excluded which is the scenario in South Africa. With the play we unpack the historical impact of how we got here. People chant to get through something. And when we chant, when we break and burn, we call to that which is available to us. And the common resource that the systematically excluded have is their bodies," Gumede says.

He doesn't exclude or separate himself from what is happening around him.

"#FeesMustFall is not happening out of thin air. Students had been 'asking nicely' from around 2006 and before. I remember in 2003 when paying for registration, I had knocked on so many doors from the SRC to the DC's office. These are some of the things that come out in the play. Theatre engages on real experience and the play presents an uncomfortable conversation," he adds.

The play boasts immense physicality.

"As a country of 11 languages we have become better at reading our bodies when words fail. Our physical sensibility is something we go to and the theatre language we explore in our work," Gumede says.

Gqisha! The Chant That Calls will have 10 shows at the Wits So Solo festival with opening night on November 23. The So Solo plays will be performed at the Wits Theatre Complex.