The TX Theatre’s double bill Mnquma & Ithemba is rich modern African contemporary dance-based storytelling. Located in the heart of the bustling township of Tembisa is the Moses Molelekwa Arts Centre, named after one of the township’s most prominent sons who in his short but impactful life achieved world-wide acclaim for his unmatched prowess in jazz as a pianist, composer and producer.
Founded in 2014 by Mxolisi Masilela, the TX Theatre has become a hub for experimentation in different art forms and seen production of cross-disciplinary theatre pieces which otherwise would struggle to get space or support in the mainstream theatre spaces. The theatre space is run by TX Theatre Productions, a Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) best known for producing the annual Tembisa Theatre Week (which celebrates its 4th year this year) and the Kuwamba National Women’s Theatre Festival which is a platform dedicated to productions by female theatre-makers.
The double-bill or double-feature as it is more commonly known is a phenomenon from the American motion picture industry where movie theatres would show two films for the price of one.
For TX Theatre the double-bill production of Mnquma & Ithemba though uncommon in mainstream theatre circles meant audiences were treated to two powerful productions for the price of one. Though distinct from each other and also being productions which stand-alone in their own right, Mnquma & Ithemba shared the stage and somehow managed to tell two stories which are not related except for the form used which was primarily modern or contemporary African dance.
The double-bill format is quite ingenious in that in this case it allowed for artists to work not only on their pieces but also on some parts together hence it made the production(s) richer and more layered as artforms which rely primarily on dance but which also utilise music and dialogue.
Mnquma performed Xolisile Bongwana is essentially about identity, the struggle to know or find one’s self and roots, and to reconnect with ancestors so that a sense of belonging can be restored. It also touched on other related themes such as what it means to be a man as well as being a cultural exploration of the rites-of-passage boys are expected to go through in order to become men. The story is told through Xhosa and Bhaca dance forms which Xolisile is an expert in and as a performer he has very few who can manage to both dance and act so seamlessly.
Ithemba performed by Thulisile Binda is a touching story about loss; loss of loved ones, loss of childhood and loss as an ever-present eventuality in human existence and is told primarily through dance, music and visuals. Using her body, Thulisile expertly executes flawless and mesmerising movements continuously moving the story forward to its painful conclusion.
‘Mnquma & Ithemba’ produced by The TX Theatre and featuring Xolisile Bongwana and Thulisile Binda were staged at the TX Theatre in Tembisa from 20 – 21 November 2020.
Tonderai Chiyindiko is a part-time arts writer and contributor. He holds a B.A honours degree in drama from the University of Zimbabwe and a Masters degree in Applied Drama from University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. He has been part and parcel of the theatre-verse both as an actor and director and more generally worked extensively within the cultural and creative industries sector in various capacities.