Contemporary Dance A Socceroo is still in town

A Socceroo is still in town

Ahilan Ratnamohan is a remarkable phenomenon: a footballer who can dance and a sportsman who weaves philosophy, history and spirituality into his stories about the beautiful game. His production, The Football Diaries, is a fascinating exploration of new and fresh theatrical possibilities in which very different worlds come together.

In the opening scene, Ratnamohan turns an empty stage space into his half of a soccer pitch – the audience is the opposing team. This kind of sequence occurs several times during the course of his performance. In between, he uses a kaleidoscopic approach, constantly shifting focus and style as he moves from one scene to another. Sometimes he describes personal experiences and events during his moves from Australia to various league teams in Europe.

Another series of sequences deals with his struggles around identity issues: his fruitless efforts to play for his ancestral country of Sri Lanka, his shock at the extreme racism in European football and his quest to understand his dharma. At other times he describes important football philosophies, such as what it is that gets you through the emotional devastation of losing a game.

Another area of focus is Ratnamohan’s hero and role-model Johan Cruyff, the Dutch footballer who is synonymous with the concept of Total Football in which any player is capable of fulfilling any role in the team at any time. Video footage of Cruyff’s extraordinary skill is projected onto a screen while Ratnamohan explains the technical and strategic significance of Cruyff’s movements.

Fascinating as the concept for this production is, and captivating though Ratnamohan might be, the piece itself feels as if it hasn’t quite reached a point where the whole becomes coherent and more than a sum of its parts. Some sequences are an utter delight – particularly the football-come-dance sequences in which Ratnamohan’s remarkable ball skills come to the fore.

His use of visual imagery and video footage are also fascinating. However, the scenes set on an imaginary pitch are repetitive and in danger of becoming tedious. There is also a stilted and awkward scene in which audience members are cast in the role of potential team mates, with Ratnamohan making comments based on stereotypical assessments of their ethnic identities and body types.

Australia might be out of the soccer World Cup, but they are still in the game here in Grahamstown. This might not yet be a final product, but Football Diaries is well worth watching, and Ratnamohan’s emerging style and genre are well worth keeping track of in the future.

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