Athi-Patra Ruga, the cover boy of the Festival’s Saturday Cue magazine, presents ‘The Elder of Azania’ at this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. The latest iteration of his ongoing ‘Future White Woman of Azania’ saga (2010 – present), the work features performers from the Rhodes Drama Department, costumes by Unathi Mkonto and soundscape by Nicholas van Reenen.
The show opens to a recitation of the ascension of her Majesty the Versatile Queen Ivy the ruling supreme monarch in the matriarchy that is Azania, providing insight into the complex fantastical legacy in which the Elder plays an important symbolic role. The end result is reminiscent of the best of epic fantasy storytelling like the Dune series (by Frank Herbert) whose creation of an alternative civilisation offers a complete political and social system that mirrors our own, but in a new and strange light.
In a near-dionysian ritual Ruga’s mythological mash-up oscillates between the revealing and the deliberately opaque. Familiar balloon clad figures engage in a mutilating (read balloon popping) contest, exploding their various contents (neon paint, talcum powder, twinkly lights) onto the stage floor, ceremoniously presided over by the mysterious silent Elder herself.
It’s a visually rewarding spectacle, but for audiences anticipating the more traditional temporal language of a theatre production, an ambiguous end left much to the imagination.