Once upon a time, long ago in the City of Gold, men torn from their families struggle to make a living working hard under ground. Risking death, in poor conditions and unable to speak, these men still found communication and happiness.The saga of Gumboots tells of these men and their communication-turned-pastime that will have you swinging in your seat. The rhythmic stomp of the gumboots, energetic bodies and emotionally charged voices depict the dark, dangerous work and the friendship between these men, all set to blues, soca and reggae tempos. Although it seems difficult to decipher whether the words you hear are English or not, the second part of the presentation, “Gumboots: The Story,” explains what you hear, and lets you see the history behind it.
Director Zeni Mbuli and designer Nigel Frittit explain the magic created in South Africa, and the origins of the celebration of a time of disaster. The bang of the steel drum, the guitar and the clinking of bottle caps on the dancers boots (which represent the chains that the Soweto gold miners once wore), in time to precision choreography and non-stop stamina make the performance vibrant and downright fun.
Masterworks, which features Gumboots, is a new documentary series that TVO launched last February, showcasing artists and the controversial aspects of their work, airing Thursdays at 10 p.m. The series specializes in focusing on the creative process and lives of artists, not necessarily the art itself.
TVO gives high priority to documentaries that are thought-provoking and artistic, according to Naomi Boxer, associate producer of documentaries. She said Gumboots captivated them as “it conveys the strong role of art in peoples lives.” Her wish is to focus on Canadian artists as they continue the series, and future episodes include “Artist on Fire” Joyce Wieland, dancer Margie Gillis and photographer Sebastian Salgotto.
Masterworks will be airing the Gumboots story and performance Thursday, Nov. 1, at 10 p.m. on TVO, and it will be repeated Saturday, Nov. 3, at 3:30 a.m.