Má Ravan ensemble – National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, Eastern Cape South Africa.
Article and images by: Bazil Raubach
The Indian Ocean was once the playground of Buccaneers’, slavers and European colonies. This sets the scene for four talented La Réunion artists to recount a piece of their history in an unusual and dynamic way.
Their singing, chanting in minor tones awakens a Jungian memory of ancient and more troubled times. There is a tradition in these Indian Ocean Island to enact these troubled memories in mime, dance and chanting. By the use of percussion instruments, and dance to summons their ancestors from across the ocean and from mainland Africa sets a eerie and disturbing environment for story telling told or enacted with style and utter professionalism by these Reunion Island performers.
The cores of this performance are two critically important music instruments from the islands. Both percussion, one is the ravanne, (a large tambourine-like drum instrument) and the caravan, (a large calabash-type rattle half filled with dried seeds.) – finally they used brass bell-type instruments with a hammer that created an eerie humming sound and well timed chinmes. The use of chanting at a monotone minor key (e - I think) was capable of setting your teeth on edge and causing your heart to skip a beat, it was as alarming as it was exciting.
The ravanne is the most important musical instrument to the La Sega, who originated on La Réunion Island. By blurring the line between ritual and representation and using athletic feats, the four actors/performers used evocation and invocation to tell the story of heroic slaves heroes from their past. A past where run-away slave rebels had both hands chopped off as a warning to others should they attempt to escape.
The story echoes a strong parallel with South Africa’s past where the contribution of our struggle heroes are only now, being recognised.
Má Ravan ensemble expresses the pain and web of their history, as each performer uses whatever techniques seem necessary, to inform the viewer. This is both an frightening experience as well as generating a sense of melancholy or deep sadness even if you don’t speak French, the power of the story stuns audiences into silence as they focus on pieces of the jigsaw puzzle from one scene to the next.
Theatre Galipot of La Réunion with the support of the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), and the French embassy in South Africa has brought this evocative and exotic piece of theatre to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. South Africa is extremely fortunate to being exposed to this wonderful piece of story telling, the piece is off to the Market Theatre in Gauteng after Grahamstown.
All images copyright Bazil Raubach© TabImages.2009