NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL

Embark on a week of psychedelic dance

By Nondumiso Msimanga 2 August 2021

Image: Supplied / Cece Otto

11 Walls in 7 Days takes us through a week of different dancers in isolation. With the world shut out, you can watch these performers lean against 11 walls and release themselves – and by proxy, us – into trippy experimentation.

Nondumiso Msimanga

This story was first published in The Critter.

11 Walls in 7 Days is a surrealist trip. This piece made me feel high and it was exactly the tonic the doctor ordered. If you need a fanciful flight from the weight of everything happening outside, watch this to feel like you’re floating in a small plastic pool on a serene South African summer’s day. It’s a dose of escapism amidst the current tumult.

The Free Pool Collective presents their individual pieces, crafted during the initial Covid-19 lockdown, presenting a film of the pieces as a conceptual week of colourful images. The collection of crazy visuals is juxtaposed to make magical moments that release us from logic. It’s a creative candy store.

Monday tastes like toffee apple. Licking and biting into the cracking sticky sweetness then getting a shot of fresh apple coursing through your body. Monday cuts and rewinds like a weird music video. The red silky pyjama-clad person stands in front of a wall thickly covered in newspaper. They eat a fruit, play with the pulp and tear down the newspaper background. The edits pull the newspaper back up, and down, and up again.

Tuesday is like sucking on a lollipop only to discover it’s an edible. Then immediately getting paranoid that the weed in the sucker is going to make you paranoid; then realising you’re just being paranoid. It’s a fast-slide down a slope of strange images. In the Tuesday video, the walls are car doors. A person sits in a car and screams. But inaudibly. Then blue balls fall through the roof. Cut to Wednesday and you may start laughing at how you’re tripping, you feel so high off of visuals.

The hallucinatory feeling that ties these seven days of isolation is slick stuff. Wednesday is like having a mouth full of blue and pink candyfloss in quick succession with an ice-cold glass of fresh water in between. Of course, surrealism enjoys juxtaposed and sensory images. The Wednesday performer stands in a bathtub in nude underwear. The walls are white. The tub is white. And they are a pasty-looking white person with quirky features, moving in quick contractions. Bath bubbles and feathers on water create a fairylike atmosphere. Cut to the bathtub and they are in pastel pink ankle boots, playing in the bathwater. But then the walls are suddenly pink tiles and shower curtain too. Squint to check your eyes aren’t playing tricks. The person smiles, gleeful and conspiratorial. You wonder if they retiled their bathroom for the work. You wonder if it’s just editing. You might wonder many things by the end of the work’s hump-day. This escapism is a luxury you can afford, if only to be able to migrate back to problem-solving with a new approach.

By Wednesday, you may have noticed the soundtrack is a vibe. Unlike the often serious drones of dance or film scores, this is young and fun. From Kanye West to indi-folk nostalgia to electro dance, it’s a downloadable playlist that has you swirling. Reminiscent of a good night out, the score moves through different moods, mimicking the candy store of experiences created for these separate but conceptually unified works.

On Saturday, a room is filled with purple balloons that squish and are squeezed until one pops. It is edifying. When Sunday comes around all the performers lie, restfully spent at week’s end after a full-on psychedelic trip.

This kaleidoscope of experimental movement and image is a taste of something refreshingly different during this strange and so sorrowful period in South Africa. Escape, if you need it, is a click away at the National Arts Festival. DM/ML

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