Qina is a new musical on at the South African State Theatre which tells the story of a young man seduced by the glitz and charm of big city life after he moves to university. Qina is an original work by Given Wiseman Chauke, which was incubated at the State last year and has gone mainstream.
Brilliantly directed and choreographed by the writer Chauke, the show tells the story of Bibo, who is accepted to a prestigious dance program in the city, While there, he meets a colourful crew of characters who gradually lead him down a darker and darker path. The choreographed dancing helps to wonderfully blend the songs into an almost diegetic state, weaving the students’ classes into songs about their classes, social lives, and loves. For this, the magnetic mixture of ballet and hip-hop style choreography that Chauke has created is truly fantastic, and the ability of the dancers to switch between styles, and keep time despite often being on different levels and not in sight of each other.
These different levels of Masai Sepuru’s set add to the visual attraction, with the band on stage and above the action. The various levels of the rest of the stage are fantastically crafted, allowing for several different locations throughout the show without the hassle of consistent prop change and long set change times. This really helps the flow of the story, with each scene moving quickly into the next and not allowing for dead space on the stage, which is so often a major stumbling block for lower budget musicals. But here, that element becomes a strength, as the action is allowed to be constantly happening. Thato Moalusi’s lighting, too, must be mentioned; throwing the characters into beautiful hues that tie in well with the emotions and pathos of the story while still displaying physical setting.
What must also be noted in this area is the really cool, funky score from Saxola Ketshengane. The different sounds that the band produced were an absolute joy to listen to – and being able to see how the different sounds were made was also a fantastic experience, especially watching a percussionist swinging a rope in front of some microphones! The music moves and grooves to all different genres, and the injection of what the official synopsis calls “afro sounds” really adds a unique flavour to the already excellent score. It can be a difficult task to write a set of disparate songs that don’t all take on the same sound and style, but Ketshengane has achieved this with ease and style.
The performances of the cast are exceptional. Katlego Nche (KaTT Ost’Reach) plays Bibo, the hero of our story, and his dancing is mesmerizing. It’s wonderful to see a show about a dancing school where the performers are believable dancers, and Nche looks the best among them. He skillfully portrays youthful exuberance and the eternal optimism that comes with naïveté, and his gorgeously airy singing tones – reminiscent of Michael Jackson – only add to the picture. Lungisa Mayekiso as DK, the devious girlfriend that Bibo picks up, also slides smarmily between needy and vengeful, toeing the line between appearing vulnerable while asserting violently with a fiery attitude that comes down to her raspy voiced singing, giving us a great “femme fatale” to identify with. Perci Moeketsi plays Freddie, an almost mustache-twirling villain of a professor, whose fury at being cuckolded leads to his attempts to ruin Bibo’s life. His magnificently dark villain song was packed with laughs and was testament to his charisma that he remained a charming antagonist right to the very end.
As always, the South African State Theatre has produced a work of extremely high quality. The incubation program is obviously in fine order and the product is once again visually and sonically interesting with strong performances, inventive choreography and technical theatre of the highest standard.