Ozymandias, a collaboration between John/Allen Project, The First Physical Theatre Company and the Rhodes University Music Department, has Shelley’s poem of the same name and Hurricane Katrina as significant influences.
“Hurricane Katrina is a major reference point,” explains choreographer and First Physical Theatre Company artistic director Gary Gordon, “but we also tried to portray a universal flood of emotions”. He believes that everyone has felt displaced at some point in their lives and this production is a celebration of human emotion.
“The idea for a collaborative project between Gary and me has been on the cards for a while,” says New Orleans co-choreographer John Allen. Hurricane Katrina prevented Gordon from visiting Tulane University in 2005 as planned, but became the inspiration for this production. When Allen took up a guest lectureship in the Rhodes Drama Department this April, the two choreographers began to conceptualise Ozymandias.
Both Allen and Gordon will perform in Ozymandias, which Gordon says “needed a certain maturity to show the range of human age”.
Jazz musicians John Edwards and Marc Duby agree that composing the music for the production was a process of trial and error. “The choreographers either tweaked it or tossed it out,” says Edwards. Duby explains that Allen also brought samples from a street musician in New Orleans which the duo then incorporated into the final product.
Acty Tang, the dramaturge, interviewed and filmed a number of people for the visual footage which is integrated into the production.
“I wanted to get real stories,” says Tang; the audio visuals give an individual voice to victims. “We are playing with the idea of the epic and the intimate,” explains Gordon, “which is a huge challenge conceptually”.
Shelley’s complex poem raises questions of power, loss, displacement and mortality. “We’ve tried to thread themes of the poem though the production, while also exploring our own stories,” says Gordon.
Nothing remains of King Ozymandias but granules of sand – will this be the fate of the possessions we hold dear? Audiences will witness the struggle the performers have while trying to let go of an object that evokes memory and the familiar. “Some things in life are inevitable,” says Allen, “this is the nature of existence”.
While many people associate Ozymandias with falling from power, Tang explains that their work explores the consequences, from the monumental to the small. “Katrina was a huge disaster, yet people manage to carry on,” says Tang.
Ozymandias is loosely divided into sections about fleeing, flood, memory and sand. The combination of carefully selected music and movement allows the audience to become part of the performers’ personal reality, as well as that of those they represent.
The musicians describe the music as “part composed and part improvised”. The choreographers describe the dance style as contemporary and the audience is waiting to see this convergence of multimedia visuals, dance and music.