8th November 2007
Every now and then you come across a dancer hitherto unknown to you who leaves you almost speechless with admiration: such a dancer is Melody Putu. Mr Putu takes the central role in To Dream, a work choreographed by Marie Brolin-Tani set in Putu’s native South Africa during the apartheid years.
Alone on a dimly lit stage, Putu removes first his tie and jacket and then his shirt. He is alone in a room with only a few props: a metal table, what appears to be a native drum, a mirror, and rather incongruously, a pair of green Wellington boots. After the opening silence Putu begins to dance to a recording of African drumming. The music seems to flow out into the audience and back into the dancer’s body as he dances alone and totally self-absorbed. A black female dancer, Maxim-Jo Beck McGosh, joins him and they dance together in a familiar but not particularly intimate way, rather as if she is a friend or even a relative, his sister perhaps? Another dancer appears, Virág Sóthy, who is white, and Putu seems to take slightly more notice of this second woman. Each dancer dances separately and together with the two females seemingly finding common ground. Sóthy exits and returns clad in a business suit replacing the simple dress she wore at the outset. This ‘power dressing’ seems to alter her personality and as she dances again with Putu she becomes more dominant and stands balanced on Putu’s shoulders as he slowly rises to his full height with the lady remaining upright: an effortless exercise in strength and control. Beck McGosh, returns to the stage replacing Sóthy and Putu’s attitude towards her has abruptly changed as he starts to roughly manhandle her. At the end of the work Putu is alone on the stage as he began, gazing into the audience enigmatically.
The programme notes to this work state that ‘the performance mirrors the fear and violence that prevailed during the apartheid years.’ But at the same time ‘represents the aspirations of individual people across the world, who each in their own way strive for the unattainable.’ In other words the work can be viewed on two levels, on the one hand the complex relationships between individuals and on the other hand the oppressive nature of life under a totalitarian regime. It can be viewed as an African everyman depicting the grind of life or more politically as a struggle against the grim realities of apartheid. I wasn’t sure of the significance of having one black female and one white on stage, perhaps there was no significance, but it’s difficult not to see a metaphor of the struggle for supremacy when Putu rises to his feet despite the weight of a white woman (in masculine attire) standing on his back.
The entire performance lasted well over an hour without a break and Melody Putu was onstage throughout and dancing for almost the entire length of the work. It was a physical tour de force, but it was the powerful personality of Melody Putu that remains in the mind as he has a stage presence many performers would give their back teeth for. Mr Putu’s career has been mainly in South Africa and Scandinavia, but if he ever dances in your locale, I urge you to go and see this extraordinary performer.