YOU could tell, as the audience filed out after opening night of Brazouka, the self-styled "sensational dance story from the toughest streets of Brazil" (Joburg Theatre), that people were unsure what to make of the show.

Was it a rags-to-riches biodrama about Braz Dos Santos, the boy from a fishing family who made his way from Porto Seguro to Paris and spread the gospel of the revised Lambada form "Lambazouk"? Was it a backing-track musical, an episodic narrative told through dancing duos and synchronised ensemble pieces? Armchair tourism, a stage version of The Rough Guide to Brazil?

Slippery genres are almost a given when it comes to postmodern cultural production — and a range of potential approaches from critical viewers.

But the show, for all its earnest energy, is aware of these tropes — to the point of self-parody. Footballs are passed around the stage as part of a dance routine, even though we’re warned against associating Brazil only with futebol. After the relentless reification of sexy female and macho male bodies for much of the show (which seems, after all, inherent in dance), a camp inversion sees the men donning headdress and doing the women’s parts. This self-mockery, too, is associated with postmodernism.

Brazouka manifests the geographical and ethnic mash-ups that come with globalisation, part of a potentially infinite process of pastiche, allusion, appropriation and adaptation. A voiceover on Yoruba-Brazilian deities is delivered in the broad Scots accent of Billy Connolly. The performers insert into their sequences hints of Irish dancing and ballet. Dos Santos emerges as an intercontinental figure.

If this is postmodernism, it’s all very user-friendly. And yet, somehow, Brazouka is less than the sum of its parts. That, likewise, is often identified as a postmodern phenomenon. It’s fun, but it’s hardly the stuff of sublime transport.

Eksteen is interested in the human-as-animal; his work is a fusion of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism that is conceptually and visually unusual.

Indeed, the romantic or transcendent is anathema to the postmodern. Perhaps that’s only appropriate; perhaps we can’t afford to turn our attention away from the material world. For many people, if postmodernity is "the way we live now", it also means trouble’s a-comin’.

Sure, technologies of communication, medicine, manufacturing and food production have improved, but so have technologies of warfare (and relativism doesn’t seem to have inhibited conflict). We have hyperconsumerism, widening wealth-poverty gaps and resource shortages. And there’s always the prospect of imminent ecological collapse.

These various concerns inform Frikkie Eksteen’s multimedia exhibition Beasts of Burden (Lizamore & Associates, 155 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood, to October 25). While the artist’s statement refers to "an environmental and social tipping point" that "appears next to impossible to reverse", the work itself is not alarmist or polemical.

Certainly, there are apocalyptic elements, particularly "Poster for Extinction". Nonetheless, the prominent red-and-brown tones (one hesitates to describe them as "earthy") affirm something resilient about the natural order and humans as part of that.

Eksteen is interested in the human-as-animal; his work is a fusion of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism that is conceptually and visually unusual.

The exhibition’s title is ambiguous. It is not just domesticated animals that are "beasts of burden"; we humans, too, are "burdened by our unrelenting self-interest and lack of foresight".

The visual representation combines the fine brushwork of oil painting with 3D computer design, inkjet printing and virtual graphics.

Eksteen seems to privilege painting over digital media, associating it with the ancient, the authentic and the animalistic. The exhibition’s leitmotif is established by an extract from Pliny the Elder bemoaning humankind’s difference from other animals: man alone is "guilty of luxury and excess", "prey to ambition", "sensible of fears" and "actuated by rage".

Sound familiar?

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