November 24, 2021

Finding Movement in Grief:
Understanding the Power of Dance in This is not a burial, it’s a resurrection.

Written by Sue-Shane Tsomondo

This is not a burial it’s a resurrection is a film by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese. Mosese is a Mosotho filmmaker and visual artist. The 2019 film became esteemed South African actress, Mary Twala Mhlongo’s last film, she passed away a month before the movie’s release. The film is the final gift from an icon who lived many lives through theatre, music and dance. The film is set in a village in Lesotho, a small country located in South Africa. The village, Nazareth (pronounced Nasareth) by its colonizers, is remembered as The Plains of Weeping by its native residents. Mary Twala plays the role of Mantoa, an old native of the village who forms the resistance against the politicians seeking to upend an entire community and build a dam on sacred burial grounds where Mantoa’s son and husband are buried.

Prior to watching this film (which was only made available for purchase and rent on streaming services recently), I watched the trailer. A moment captured during Montau’s son’s burial service shows community members circling the grieving woman. This scene is all too familiar to people raised in the tradition of southern African burial rituals, people often gather to sing and dance, to comfort the bereaved. Grief is a performance, an outward performance of sincere empathy.
A moment captured in the still above struck me as a visual representation of what I had been trying to articulate for weeks. I am constantly thinking very seriously about the collective grief we are all experiencing to varying degrees due to this global pandemic. I made a post to my Instagram sharing the still from the film, I wrote underneath the post, “In Shona, when you offer your condolences to the bereaved, one of the responses the bereaved may give is, “Ndeedu tese” which means “the suffering/loss is all of ours to bear.”

I am reflecting on what it means live in a “post-pandemic” world or to be “back to normal” when there is so much grief and loss of life/livelihoods around us, happening presently, is this grief not ours to bear too? (I’m not sure “all of ours” is grammatically correct, other variations don’t seem to convey the same meaning).”

If time is a social construct, then grief is its kryptonite. Grief is not linear, in grief time moves too fast, too slow, or not at all. So, what does dance have to offer us in this time of grief?

Perhaps we are not ready for the world to move on, some of us want to the world to make space for our grief. What if there is way to move with the grief and not move past it? In moments throughout the film, like when Mantoa puts on the dress her husband gave her to dance, reaching out her arms to an invisible pain, I finally understand what Thandiswa Mazwai meant when she sang, “You inspired me to find God in motion in a place that seems so still,” in the song Transkei Moon. I took for granted how movement can co-exist with stillness to provide both an escape and acknowledgement of grief. So, continue to dance in memory and in hope. Dance to say, I am alive, but I am honouring the grief I feel that sometimes makes me feel like time stopped, and the world is completely still.

The film is available for rent or purchase on YouTube and Apple+

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