{stomp their way into the hearts.

feet and libidos of an up-close and eager audience.

Soweto born and bred. gumboot dancing is clearly the break-dancing of its area. an expressive street jive that‘s come jigging from the ghetto to take on the world. And. like most things in this particular neighbourhood. gumboot dancing has a political root. Once upon a time. South Africa was the biggest producer of gold in the world. While the white mine-owners lined their pockets. it was the oppressed blacks who had to get their hands and feet dirty. To prevent footrot from the water-logged mines. the miners were equipped with standard issue rubber gumboots. Forbidden from talking. the workers found the boots were possesed with the ideal slapping surface to develop a form of morse code which enabled them to communicate. Thus the gumboots ‘language‘ was born.

The current show began life in a Soweto youth centre. where director Zenzi Mbuli and Tale Motsepe developed a show which later visited the Sydney Festival. It was here that it first caught the eyes and ears of Wayne Harrison and Nigel Triffitt. creative maestros behind the hugely succesful Tap Dogs.

‘At the time.‘ Harrison explains. ‘there were six dancers performing on a bare stage. so if one got sick they had to re-stage things to cope with there being less people onstage.’ Once a deal was struck. Harrison scaled up the show to feature three musicians. as well as a backing trio who come on like a male Supremes. Next up was Triffitt’s

20 THELIST 5—12 Aug 1999

For over an

hour, these boys sing, dance and stomp their way into the hearts, feet and libidos of an up-close and eager audience.

ingenious stage set. which anyone who has seen 721/) Dogs will instantly recognise. Throughout the course of (Iron/mots. the dancers gradually build a replica mineshaft. which then proceeds to soak them as the rains pour down.

What’s really amazing about (Iron/mots is that something so joyous could come out of such oppression. Think back to our own mid-80s miners strike. All we got by way ofentertaimnent was the right-on lefty posturing of Red Wedge and a whole lot of llat cap ‘n‘ breeks dignity of labour chic. To be fair. more recently The Full Monty has come crawling from the post-industrial wreckage and. as a reference point. it isn't that far removed from (hon/mots. however. unlikely that may sound. For while the (Iron/mots boys only go topless. the same libido-driven thrusting is apparent on-stage minus the middle-aged love handles. that is. With not an inch of spare flesh on display. one suggests the good burghers of Broughton lock up their daughters forthwith.

‘Once apartheid ended.‘ Triflitt explains. ‘there was a problem with political theatre in South Africa. because everything they‘d been protesting against had been turned around. Suddenly it wasn‘t enough to just shout "Amandla" onstage to get an audience on your side..

There is a worry. though. of such a big—scale entertainment enterprise being a wet liberal form of cultural colonialism or. at the least. cultural tourism. A bit like the mid-80s wave of Andy Kershaw-listening World Music fans who were hip enough to consume the latest Soweto rhythms without recourse to anything so intrusive as context. however infectious the music. Then there’s Rive/dance. the Irish jig phenomenon which has done more for tap-shoe sales since I’anw‘s leg-warmed heyday. inspiring a hop-scotch hotch-potch of inferior imitations.

Mbuli and Motsepe though don't think their boys are being exploited in the slightest. ‘We‘ve never felt that.‘ Mbuli asserts in between rehearsals. ‘We‘re not watering down where we‘ve come from. but we‘re showing the world.’

And. as the twelve dancers take a much extended curtain call after Gum/mots" first preview at that little theatre in Bramfontein before a partisan crowd. it’s clear that South Africa belongs to them. Now at last they’re taking it to the world on their own terms. kicking tip numerous storms en route. Amandla to that.

Gumboots (Fringe) Gumboots. Gilded Balloon at The Palladium (Venue 26) 226 2151, 7-30 Aug (not 8, 16, 23) 7pm, £9.50 (£8.50); 14 & 15, 21 & 22 Aug, 3.15pm, £9.50 (£8.50); 28-30 Aug, 1.45pm, £9.50 (£8.50).