Hijinx Unity Festival swallow song

Borderlines | Hijinx Unity Festival 2015

Tom Wentworth shares his opinion on a haunting production, Borderlines, staged at the Hijinx Unity Festival in Cardiff. 

This production by Panaibra Gabriel Canda / Culturarte, part of the current Unity Festival is described in the promotional material ‘as one of Unity’s hardest-hitting performances to date’. This is unarguably true; the piece itself is raw, uncompromising theatre which makes us unable to not question ourselves whilst watching.

Exploring the tensions and conflicts that still exist in Mozambican society, twenty years after the end of the Civil War, this piece packs a direct punch. We, the audience, are immediately put on edge as the integrated company of performers assemble at the beginning, some cradling stones in their arms as if they were Prayer Books, and stand in reverent (but decidedly eerie silence.) I found this silence to be both deafening and lengthy. However, the piece then gradually moves to become louder as three of the five performers performed a series of fast paced, staccato movements. Gradually, this became louder still, until one performer moves up and down on her hands, shouting and pleading with the audience for help. The result is a feeling of utter powerlessness.

This is followed by an even more disturbing section where one of the male dancers is singled out and horrifically attacked. This is shown through a range of terrifying methods: rocks are thrown; he is spat at and physically pulled about. The violence is some of the most extreme I have ever seen on stage.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Bause
Photo Courtesy of Michael Bause

Borderlines also has a strong spoken word element, constructed out of biblical texts and snatches of English and Portuguese. By far the most unsettling element of this score which accompanies the movement is the sharp, rhythmic intakes of breath which are the lynchpin throughout. The simple act of one body living and breathing when it seeks to potentially kill another is a chilling reminder of the brutality, cruelty and hardship in the world to which we are all too ready to turn a blind eye.

Here this production raises an interesting question – what is the role of the viewer in all this? Often as a reviewer, one urges the reader to go and see an excellent production (which this undoubtedly is – a masterclass in how to make an audience feel something deeply which then resonates afterwards.) In this case, I feel it must be viewed with a warning about its graphic nature. It is not easy to urge people to go see it.

Thankfully, the piece does end with a note of hope as the company uses the stones and each other’s bodies to help transport everyone across the stage as a unit.

Borderlines is a production that will stay with you. It has changed the way that I think about on-going conflicts in the wider world and brilliantly highlights the human angle. I feel both very privileged to have seen this production.

Borderlines: Panaibra Gabriel Canda / Culturarte

Unity Festival, Wales Millennium Centre

Tom Wentworth is a contributor to Wales Arts Review.