VINCENT SEKWATI KOKO MANTSOE choreographing and performing Ntu and NDAA, presented by DanceWorks and Harbourfront Centre Dance at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre (231 Queens Quay West), October 20 to 22 at 8 pm. $25, stu/srs $16. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
The last time Vincent Sekwati Koko Mantsoe performed in Toronto, he was all wet. And so were people in the first few rows. For his glorious finale, Motswa Hole, the South African-born dancer and choreographer poured a bowl of water over himself and began ritualistically stomping and stamping on it, spraying the cheering Harbourfront Centre crowd.
"There's no water this time," laughs Mantsoe. "These pieces are a little bit darker."
He's performing two new solos, Ntu and NDAA. The latter piece looks at the idea of greetings.
"What do we mean when we say, 'Hello, how are you'?" asks Mantsoe a few minutes after saying those very words to me on the phone from Ottawa, one stop on his North American tour.
In South Africa, he says, the process of greeting used to be very important. Some special greetings lasted up to half an hour.
"You always had a certain way of entering and exiting a house. Those things were important to our lives. Nowadays, a greeting might last a few seconds. So I'm exploring tradition, who we are and what's missing. If we forget what we were yesterday, we're lost."
Although he's now based near Vichy, France, he sees the tradition changing in today's South Africa.
"We've had just over a decade of democracy, but the changes in the younger generation are huge. I'm fascinated by exploring how to bridge tradition and contemporary realities."
In the piece, he carries on a conversation with the world of spirits, symbolized by bamboo trees. He also addresses the bamboo because of what it means, especially in Japanese culture.
"I love the simplicity of the bamboo. It's strong. It's firm. And it's alive - we get fresh air from the trees."
The work's companion piece, Ntu, translates literally as "nothing." Its main theme is the statement: "A person is a person because of other people."
On a bare stage, he creates movements that he hopes make people question the idea of humanity and the soul.
"It's a heavy piece, but I think you can get positive answers from it," he says. "I'm not angry with people and telling them what they should and shouldn't be doing. I'm addressing issues. I want people just to enjoy the nature of spirituality. Enjoy the energy of dance and passion.
"That's what much of life is about."