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Canberra dance: Liz Lea takes on Ahmed Kathrada at QL2 Theatre

Posted by on 29/06/2018

Kathrada 50/25 – An homage. QL2 Theatre, Gorman House Arts Centre, Braddon. November 1 at 7pm, November 2 at 4pm and 7pm. www.trybooking南京夜网

The life of South Africa-born anti-apartheid activist and former political prisoner Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada has fascinated and  inspired dancer choreographer Liz Lea for some time. But it wasn’t until 2012 while working in Durban with Flatfoot Dance Company that she met him, and that meeting led her to create a dance work titled Kathrada 50/25 – An homage, though she admits, it could also be described as a tribute.

The  production is really a reworking of her original tribute and Lea reflects on an earlier, challenging attempt to create Kathrada’s extraordinary story. “Last year when I first created it I didn’t think it worked very well – probably because as a solo artist I was trying to be too many things,” she says. “It’s now performed in four separate sections and I think it is potentially more coherent for the audience this time.

“I’m breaking it down into the stories Kathrada told about some of his life in prison and the metaphor of the trapped bird because the whole show is inspired by his favourite 1957 Bollywood song about a trapped bird.” Lea has used the bird as a metaphor in several of her recent works. The dance vocabulary in Kathrada reflects Lea’s training at London Contemporary Dance School and Akademi in London, and the influence of classical Indian dance and martial arts. 

For many years Lea travelled the interminable hours between London and Sydney. Then she discovered the best city in the world to live in and landed the job of artistic director of Canberra Dance Theatre while continuing to develop Liz Lea Dance.

Lea will be accompanied on stage by Aria award-winning tabla player Bobby Singh, Canberra’s mature-age dance group GOLD, the kathak dancer Shruti Ghosh and Troupe Olabisi, an African dance and drumming group. Though they didn’t know each other at the time, many of the GOLD dancers were at the protests outside the South African embassy against apartheid in 1971 when the all-white Springboks rugby team came to Canberra. 

Kathak is a north Indian dance style derived from “katha” meaning “the art of storytelling” and is similar to the bharatnatyam dance form. “The interesting thing about Kathrada is that he lived all his life in South Africa but because of his parents he still has an Indian accent,” Lea says.

Without the support of artsACT funding Lea has successfully turned to crowdfunding to assist with production costs. The Creative Partnerships Australia MATCH program – which provides crowdfunding for the independent arts sector – facilitates the creation of new artistic work by matching funds raised by independent artists. “Six Canberra artists associated with QL2 through Creative Partnerships were match funded … so I was offered $2500 and I raised the other half with a Pozible online campaign I ran,” Lea says.

Lea will also be relying on box office and her own “motivation to get out there and make it happen. It’s pleasing that Bobby has secured Australia Council funding to record the music from Kathrada,” she says. “I got Australia Council Music Board funding in the first place. Now with the funding Bobby is making an album and that’s really exciting.”

Lea feels a sense of completion about her latest version of Kathrada – a passionate journey – and says, “It’s appropriate that this production happens at this time as 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Kathrada’s imprisonment.”

Coincidentally, the timing of the production marks the 25th anniversary of his release from prison on October 15. Kathrada was imprisoned alongside Nelson Mandela in Robben Island maximum security prison and Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town from 1964-1989 for his involvement in the anti-apartheid activities of the African National Congress.

While in prison he obtained four university degrees – a BA in history and criminology, a degree in bibliography in African politics and Library Science, and honours degrees in history and in African politics. After his release from prison in 1989, Kathrada was elected a member of parliament and served as parliamentary counsellor to Mandela. In 1994, he was elected chairman of the Robben Island council. He lives in Johannesburg.

Kathrada was one of Mandela’s closest friends – a friendship that spanned eight decades. He is remembered for his emotional words as Mandela’s funeral was beamed around the world when he recalled, “a tall, healthy strong man, the boxer, the prisoner, who easily wielded the pick and shovel when we couldn’t do so – the prisoner who vigorously exercised.”

Kathrada went on to say that “what he saw in hospital was a man helpless and reduced to a shadow of himself and now the inevitable has happened. I have lost a brother. My life is in a void and I don’t know who to turn to”.

In 2011, Kathrada published a memoir, No Bread for Mandela: Memoirs of Ahmed Kathrada, Prisoner No.468/64, which included a foreword from Mandela. Kathrada explores the history of modern South Africa and sheds light on the struggle against apartheid. Mandela has been quoted as saying, “Ahmed Kathrada has been so much part of my life over such a long period that it is inconceivable that I could allow him to write his memoirs without me contributing something. Our stories have become so interwoven that the telling of one without the voice of the other being heard somewhere would have led to an incomplete narration.”

As Lea says, the retelling, even narration, of her interpretation of Kathrada’s story in dance is “absolutely a tribute” about a big life that will live on for ever. In a recent email to Lea, he confirmed his blessing for her show, saying he was not worthy but would like to see a film of the production.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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