Archive: Issue No. 74, October 2003

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Gregg Smith

Before the dance at the Barney Barnato Bar

Photo: Bridget Baker

Gregg Smith

Tango at the Labia

Photo: Cameron Platter

Love, jealousy and wanting to be in two places at once : Gregg Smith
by Cameron Platter

It's eleven thirty on a Sunday morning and Gregg Smith, organiser of the Very Real Time project Is presenting his contribution, entitled Love, jealousy and wanting to be in two places at once in the foyer of the Labia Cinema in Cape Town's beautiful and gentle Gardens area, and at the same time at the slightly seedy Barney Barnato Bar, on the corner of Buitenkant and Roeland Street.

At the Labia, a man walks into the foyer of the cinema, orders a glass of red wine, and sits down reading a film programme. He glances around shyly, perhaps looking for someone. Ten minutes later, a woman enters the cinema, and also sits down. She also appears to be looking for someone. The couple steal looks, but don't engage. A tango song begins to play. The man seems to be becoming nervous. Another song follows the first. The woman gets up to leave, her coat half on. The man, now obviously nervous, but with some bravado, approaches her. They begin to dance the tango.

Smith had for this project, constructed a fictional narrative. A couple, whose marriage is quietly growing lifeless, decide to rekindle their passion through the tango. But not any old tango, rather a more risque partner swopping form of the dance, each with a different partner in separated venues. As Smiths says, "The tango is a very special dance. No two couples dance it the same way. It is the ultimate expression of love if it is danced the right way".

Two performances, then, at the same time, of two couples performing a blind date tango dance, in different parts of the city. Smith talks of this project (the tango) as vechile for "self and social renewal, a way to recapture lost time, operating in two realities, two venues."

It was the simpleness and quietness (gentleness) of the performance that captured me. It reminded one of old films, and seemed in the Sunday mid-morning light to have a an almost sepia tint to it. However, the fact that it was staged in very real time, just before the matin´┐Że shows, bought the event firmly into the present with viewers and cinema goers providing the backdrop. The gliding, scuffing, and shuffle of the dancers' shoes, the smoke from the man's post-dance cigarette (smoked sans partner) idling into the air, the furtive glances, barely suppressed nostalgia and eroticism- all had a cinematic quality to them.

The performance ended as seamlessly as it had begun: the woman left silently, the man ordered another glass of wine, and after finishing it, left quietly too.