In his new multimedia performance, choreographer Thabiso Pule concerns himself with changes in Johannesburg’s ecosystem. He says: "Our environment has been the victim of all sorts of attacks."
Thabiso Pule © Goethe-Institut/Thami Manekehla
Your multimedia performance piece, which you are performing at GoetheonMain as part of the Dance Umbrella festival program, deals with man-made alterations of the ecosystem in Johannesburg. Or, in other words, with pollution, dirt, congestion and littering. Where does your interest in this subject matter stem from?
TP: I remember during my school years I used to watch Captain Planet (an ecological cartoon). (laughs) He was a guy saving the planet and I always wanted to be like him.
You did a residency with Livearts in New York City in 2014, where you developed your performance piece What the hell happened to this place? and performed it on the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. Please tell us more about the development of this piece.
TP: The residency was funded by Suitcase Funds, a division of New York Livearts in partnership with the Movement Research Festival. I and my longtime partner Thami Hector Manekehla were invited by them to come to New York for a residency.
This performance piece was developed a long time ago. I say to people: ‘An artist is like a baby; a very curious creature to deal with.’ (laughs).
I was curious about other places (cities) when traveling abroad, and I started thinking about similarities and differences between Johannesburg and other cities. Johannesburg was so filthy and it is not a place to dwell or conduct business. From that curiosity evolved a love for the natural environment. Most city dwellers in the countries I visited use bicycles.
My interest began in 2008, while I was traveling around the world, discovering different cities and how they used advanced technology to clean up and take care of their cities. Paris used to be a bad place a long time ago; but today, you see trees, lakes and parks wherever you go. The air is fresh and there are quite a few electric cars. In Geneva, Switzerland, the fresh air really struck me. In Amsterdam, there were more bicycles than in New York, while both cities have designated bicycle roads.
I don’t understand why the South African Department of Environmental Affairs does not push environmental policies more actively and support initiatives that focus on environmental programs that are visible to the public! That’s why I developed three projects: Can do it (2011) in collaboration with two dancers, Thami Hector Manekehla and Sifiso Seleme. This was supported by the Goethe-Institut in South Africa. The second project is the Greenway Festival in Soweto; for which we still require funding. And thirdly, What the hell happened to this place??, a two-part series which includes elements of dance, performance, and multimedia installation which will be shown at GoetheonMain on 28 February and 1st March 2015. The second phase of this project is a documentary film, inspired by fracking in the Karoo.
You were born and raised in Johannesburg. How does Johannesburg compare with New York City in your experience, in terms of ecological awareness and quality of living in the city centre?
TP: I guess our policies are not the same as the governments are not the same. That is why I can’t compare the two, because of different factors, economy etc… but New York’s structure is better in terms of infrastructure, parks and technology. Their education focuses on environmental campaigns such as city camping in a protected environment such as botanical gardens. Private households collect and recycle trash separately, from paper to bottles to cans. In Soweto we have mine dumps and small parks in the city. Our democracy is still in its infancy after 21 years. There are also other factors, such as education, where we still trail behind in subjects such as math and science.
You are very passionate about raising awareness about threats to the ecosystem in big cities, and especially in your native Johannesburg. Do you think it should be made a higher priority on municipal, provincial or even national government level, and how can the individual person contribute to this discussion?
TP: First I think not only the government, but everyone should start contributing. We could start by changing laws so that environmental pollution becomes a legal offence.
Furthermore, the implementation of environmental studies at lower primary to tertiary levels in schools could be explored and eco-ambassadors could be appointed at schools. Such ambassadors would be key change agents to get the process going.
The Department of Environmental Affairs needs to do their job! Individuals need to practice simple things in their households, such as recycling, collecting trash separately, reusing items and also consuming less electricity. I would like to see more events that center around environmental impact. This is what I call ‘Eco entertainment’.
What can the audience expect when they come to see What the hell happened to this place?? at GoetheonMain?
TP: I am taking the audience on a journey, consisting of three elements: Firstly, there will be a performance, secondly, visuals of green city living will be displayed, and lastly, the audience is invited to visualise a performer as a doctor trying to save the world. I would like for the audience to go home and start implementing and practicing being greener citizens.
Thabiso Heccius Pule, born in Soweto and based in Johannesburg, is a dancer and choreographer. Through his performance work, he aims to bring public awareness to the challenges of global warming and its side effects.
His multimedia performance piece, What the Hell happened to this Place??, supported by the Goethe-Institut in South Africa, was part of the Dance Umbrella Festival 2015 programme.