Contemporary dance

Of tears, wolf gods and untrammelled beauty: Dance Umbrella’s first Double Bill

Poised: Grant van Ster (left) and Shaun Oelf opposite Thabiso Dinga in The Architecture of Tears. Photograph by Dex Goodman.

Poised: Grant van Ster (left) and Shaun Oelf opposite Thabiso Dinga in The Architecture of Tears. Photograph by Dex Goodman.

Mixed programmes in Dance Umbrella always hold that frisson of possibility and that lucky packet threat that is about how the works on the programme relate to one another, as well as what you are left with at the end of the evening. Sadly the wretched acoustics in the Dance Factory leave you with the harsh resonances of low frequency static that you hear with your bowels and teeth, and that make you cringe and hurt physically, but happily, the work on this evening’s agenda was strong enough to offer a counterbalance.

Ananda Fuchs’s The Architecture of Tears is a piece nearly two years in the making which aims to meld a series of microscopic photographs of tears by Rose-Lynn Fisher with some extraordinary dance work, music and social commentary and by and large, it is successful. Grant van Ster and Shaun Oelf dance opposite Thabisa Dinga in choreography that is satisfying on the senses and speaks beautiful volumes of relationship permutations and loss and loneliness as it grapples with tears of joy and all kinds of different ways in which the three bodies blend and embrace and explore one another: it’s about emotional relationships as much as it is about physical ones, but the work never wanders into the lewd or explicit, which serves to push it over into a little too sanitised a sense of abstraction. While there’s immense beauty here, the abstraction can sometimes serve to temper a sense of meaning or clear narrative and might lose you, in the audience.

Something bigger is lost, however, in the way in which music pieces segue – or rather don’t segue, leaving the dancers in  silence for a few transitionary seconds, which doesn’t bode well for the work’s flow.

Also, while the photographic images on screen are fascinating – they’re views of tears by Rose-Lynn Fisher, there’s no engagement with them. We see the same images repeated and the dancers are doing amazing things, but the visual and dance-stimulated gestures don’t fall logically hand in hand and while you’re transfixed by the movement and the manner in which each performer holds his or her own emotions with a glowing preciousness and the irrevocable beauty of trust, you clap heartily but leave perplexed at the images themselves, which form conceptual question marks in the piece.

Not since a very young Athena Mazarakis choreographed an astonishing fight scene in a version of A Clockwork Orange have we seen such articulate and mesmerising fight choreography as that created by Sunnyboy Motau and Rachel Erdos in collaboration with Moving Into Dance Mophatong performers in fight, flight, feathers, f***ers, the second half of the double bill.

An essay on the conflicting and contradictory challenges of masculinity in a contemporary world, the work ably brings together a sophisticated reflection on what is foe, what is friend, and what is ambiguously neither and both, with the curious and ingenious use of masks. These masks evoke Anubis, the Egyptian wolf-god of the dead, as they lend an effulgent sense of darkness to the works. Feathers are not only a metaphor, but spin from clichéd softness into an aggressive taunt which you will struggle to pull your eyes from.

While fight and flight choreography lend the piece its fire, there are elements that reflex a complex intertwining of bodies that is completely enthralling to behold and will make you think of local traditions of wood sculpture – by the likes of Noria Mabasa – in which one piece of wood is worked in such a way that many intertwined bodies are evoked. These four men – Muzi Shili, Oscar Buthelezi, Teboho Letele and Eugene Mashiane – demonstrate a level of give and take and call and response that is truly a privilege to witness.

A piece that might make you think of the recent play, The Three Little Pigs, directed by Tara Notcutt, which has performed all over the country and world, over the last few years, flight, flight, feathers, f***ers demonstrates an anthropomorphic facility which is at once direct and crude as it is deeply evolved and sinister. Coupled with utterly perfect lighting which enables the dancers to splay off into a whole community of shadows big and small, this piece is a magnetic tour de force, bruised only slightly by sound which is too harsh and too unmodulated in this space.

  • Double Bill comprised The Architecture of Tears and fight, flight, feathers, f***ers, and performs at the Dance Factory in Newtown until March 4.
    • The Architecture of Tears was choreographed by Ananda Fuchs and company and performed by the Figure of Eight Dance Collective. It was performed by Grant van Ster, Shaun Oelf and Thabisa Dinga with costumes by Jen Stretch, lighting design by Ananda Fuchs and music by Max Richter, Vivaldi, Rachael Boyed, Jona Kvarnstrm and Danny Cudd/Markus Johansson.
    • fight, flight, feathers, f***ers was choreographed by Sunnyboy Motau and Rachel Erdos and performed by Muzi Shili, Teboho Letele, Oscar Buthelezi and Eugene Mashiane, with lighting design by Wilhelm Disbergen, costumes by Kyle Roussouw and music compilation by Teboho Letele.

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