Performing plays in Hillbrow flats

AGGRESSION, filth, crime and fear all spring to mind when one talks or thinks about the notorious Hillbrow in Johannesburg.

AGGRESSION, filth, crime and fear all spring to mind when one talks or thinks about the notorious Hillbrow in Johannesburg.

But there is so much more to this place that was once a no-go area. It has a very interesting history and that thought gripped my mind when a group of us headed to Hillbrow on Thursday for the X Homes initiative.

Brought to the country by the German Institute Goethe, the project includes documentary theatre, dance and performance arts.

These theatre and dance pieces are performed in people's private spaces. Pimville and Kliptown in Soweto, as well as Hillbrow are perfect places to introduce this type of artistic performance.

About seven homes in Hillbrow and nearby Berea were used as locations. In each of the homes visitors watched a production about Hillbrow.

Visitors also had an opportunity to go on a three-hour walkabout to the homes.

On Thursday morning it was my turn to tour the suburb that was once feared. With all the negative reports and stories about Hillbrow, walking around with my handbag was a terrifying experience. Though I walked with a group, I still felt unsafe.

Our first stop was the Sunnyhoek flat where we were welcomed with some very interesting theatre acting. Featuring Jersey Mogale, Onthathile Matshidiso and Xoli Norman, the story related the history of Hillbrow.

From a distance the flats look tidy, but just wait until you set foot inside. The terrible smell, the poverty and the overcrowding hit you right in the face. Here it is normal for families to use one room as a kitchen, lounge and bedroom.

The second stop was the Hillbrow Boxing Club, which was established in 1994. An old boxing ring outside and a few weights tell the story of a place that is used to produce champions.

We were taken to the basement, where we saw shocking living conditions.

A very interesting piece that touches on various issues, including HIV-Aids, was related. But the state of the apartment makes it difficult to concentrate on the play.

The third location, which was the highlight of X Homes, was at St Anthony Flat. The piece was by award-winning playwright Paul Grootboom and iportrays the violent Hillbrow that we have all heard about.

With no lifts in the building it was good exercise for us to climb to the 10th floor. Since X Homes was staged to change the perception of urban spaces, one thing that you can take out of Hillbrow is that despite hardships people continue to have dreams.

Christoph Gurk was the man behind the X Homes project.