Dance show explores artists’ Covid-19 anguish

Dancers Martinique Palmer, Courtney Walljee and Jarryd Watson.

A new dance show, Stripped, explores the pain and sense of loss many artists have grappled to come to terms with because of Covid-19.

Stripped will be staged at the Theatre Arts venue, in Observatory, on Saturday June 12, as part of the Dance Movement Dance Arts Congress, hosted by the Wentworth Arts and Culture Organisation. Funded by the National Arts Council, this Durban-based NGO uses dance to help those with disabilities and other marginalised communities.

Stripped explores the impact of Covid-19: corruption, mismanagement of Covid-relief funds, poverty, gender violence and the rise in crime. The title of the show reflects both the financial and creative losses suffered by those in the arts and culture industry.

“The concept of Stripped was created when I was at the lowest point of my career due to the funding cuts and the lockdown regulations, halting my artistic works,” says Jarryd Watson, the show’s director.

Speaking to other artists around the country and abroad, he realised they were all experiencing the same things in different ways.

“I then compiled all their personal stories and experiences. Covid-19 had taken away finances, jobs, lives and quality time with family and friends. We as artists and society felt stripped of all that was valuable to us.”

The mismanagement of state relief funds for artists only aggravated the crisis, he says, as many didn’t get the help they needed.

Watson says it took seven weeks to create all the performances, and he had to work around the challenge of coordinating casts in Durban and Cape Town.

“During the seven-week period, the lessons were conducted via Zoom between the Durban and Cape Town cast members. Choreographers had to teach the steps online, but the constant interruption of the network slowed the process down. It was also very difficult to grasp the feel and emotion of the piece virtually.”

Stripped choreographer Marcus Mabie says being cut off from family and friends during lockdown made one dwell on “death, time and health” and start to question everything.

“While being locked up and feeling overwhelmed in one space, I then used different songs that captured our emotions and what we were feeling, making sure that everyone watching is to be captured from the start.”

One of the performances he choreographed has five identities coming together to share who or what they loved and lost and what they believe in.

“I want the audience to see their journey through every song and style they portray when they perform,” he says.

Dancer Bjorn Cupido says this was a very different working and learning environment. “We had to do the choreographic rehearsals via Zoom, which was a challenge at first, but we are a strong group of young professionals so it got easier quickly.”

Cupido says he wants audiences to realise how arts-relief funds were looted and grasp the artists’ plight.

“The audience should hopefully feel the pain and suffering behind the smiles that they would normally see on a stage or in a performance setting,” he says.

The Durban dancers will fly to Cape Town on Thursday June 10 to work on final aspects of the performance.

As part of the dance congress, dance classes will be held for artists, dancers and people living with disabilities. The first of these classes will run from 9am to 5.30pm on Saturday June 12, with the main performance of Stripped at 5.45pm. For ticket prices and bookings, email wentwortharts@yahoo.com

Stripped performer, Bjorn Cupido.
Teagan de Maringy is one the choreographers for Stripped.