Women with fire in their bellies

Themba

MY books, my frock: Thabisa Dinga in Autho(r)ise. Photograph by John Hogg.

BOOKS AND THEIR inflammable contents, the perennially absent South African father, and unleashing the wrath of decolonised feminist fury are the issues central to the works staged by Themba Mbuli in Dance Umbrella, earlier this month. Mbuli’s topics are hot and relevant and the presentation is clear and engaging. But it is the work of Thabisa Dinga that ramps up the nerve centre of these pieces with fierce abandon and utter electricity.

A demure young woman, from the outset and outside, Dinga has skills that take you by surprise. She plays traditional African instruments that blend bow-instrument with blown instrument with weapon, as she captures the vortex of the works. Dealing with social issues central to who we are as people in this world, who have a tendency to overlook the values and the spaces of others, Dinga is key to the narrative in Memory Box, opposite Mbuli himself.

In Autho(r)ise, a work pummelled a little by typographical errors in the videoed projection, Dinga is seen in collaboration with Kristen De Kock and Nkemiseng Khena. It is here that fire is evoked with politically sensitive comments, an image that calls to mind South African visual artist Penny Siopis’s well-loved work from 1988, Dora and the Other Woman with the idea of pinning images onto a dress, and the complex life of text in a decolonised environment.

De Kock is another performer who also looks too demure and gentle to manifest the kind of performative fire that she makes, and you sit, transfixed and moved by the whorl of values that these two works present.

Looking at Mbuli’s work you cannot but mourn not only the Dance Umbrella in its current manifestation, but also the fact that the Standard Bank Young Artist Award – which Mbuli won in 2016 for dance – never did boast a travelling platform, as it does for visual arts in this country. It’s an omission that enables fine and feisty choreographers and performers of the ilk of Mbuli, to slip though national cracks.

  • Autho(r)ise and Memory Box are choreographed by Themba Mbuli. The former features creative input by Maris Steenkamp (costumes), Meryle Van Noie (composer), Thabisa Dinga (life music), Bamanye Yeko (lighting and technical design) and Christelle Dreyer (video) and is performed by Kristen De Kock, Thabisa Dinga and Nkemiseng Khena. The latter features creative input by Merry K Designs (costume), Thabisa Dinga (live music), Camile – Le fil, Mika Vainio, Alva Noto and Ryuichi (recorded music) and Bamanye Yeko (lighting and technical design), and is performed by Thabisa Dinga and Themba Mbuli. Both works were part of Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella in its 30th season and performed on March 17 and 18 at the Downstairs Theatre, Wits University. Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.

Things we take when we go

Munnik

EFFERVESCENT words and the power of etching. Andrew Munnik’s He Goes. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Art Gallery.

ONE OF THE central catastrophes of our world is the untold damage done to people who are forcibly dispossessed for whatever reason. People who are shoved from their land, pushed into hostile terrain. Chinese contemporary artist Ai WeiWei reflects on refugees in his enormous current advocacy film Humanflow. Much quieter, and considerably less dramatic, but no less to the point, is Andrew Munnik’s current body of work, on show at Fried Contemporary Art Gallery.

Entitled Strangers in a Strange Land, this modest collection of six intaglio prints and three large scale paintings touches all the issues central to the horror of loss – that is loss of identity through possessions, through association. In being so, they’re not invested with precious earnestness. Rather they’re quite quirky pieces that will make you smile a little as your gut is wrenched by the reality referred to.

But above all, Munnik makes curious use of the presence of words and letters, which take on the role of lines cross-hatching one another. As a result, texture is cast and presented in the body of an image, but look more carefully, and the words and letters pop out at you. It’s almost as though you are looking at a bag of memories that from far looks homogenous, but up close contains nostalgia and anguish, the things left behind, and those that are lost.

The paintings are less successful in their engagement with subtlety.  They’re less easy to fall into, from your heart onwards. Has this to do with the mix of repeated elements in Stay off the Grass, a contemplation of children in a ring-fenced space? Perhaps, but still it is the etchings that grab your eyes back each time, and capture an energy and an intensity that will make you think about possessions, about ownership and about the value of fitting in. You can’t read the text that swarms madly into and out of focus, but you understand it as text, and tease it apart for the value that the written word brings to the skill of holding on in a society where you might be excluded.

  • Strangers in a Strange Land by Andrew Munnik is in the Collectors’ Room at Fried Contemporary Gallery in Brooklyn, Pretoria, until April 7. 012 346 0158.

Your name, my body

Impermanence

COMING and going. Paul Emmanuel’s Maniere stone lithograph, Platform 5. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Gallery.

THE WORDS THAT describe you — your name — are among the things that unequivocally define you. It’s a proper noun in the world and something that when you are no longer there, will evoke you to strangers. It is upon this premise that much of Paul Emmanuel’s work on his current exhibition reflects. Entitled Impermanence, the pieces on show draw from several bodies of work created over the last decade or so; there are photographs of installations in the fields of France, Mozambique and Grahamstown, and samplings of series of works contemplating mortality.

Remember-Dismember (2015) is a single channel video playing on a loop in the gallery. It encapsulates the untellable, inscrutable nature of a name as it considers the vulnerability of the body as a receptacle for the names of those who are no longer here. Segueing with his thinking in The Lost Men, this video work sees Emmanuel intimately holding on to the anonymous young men who died in trenches, ignominiously rendered fodder by the war machines.

Indeed, on so many levels, Emmanuel becomes as a Wilfred Owen over a hundred years after the First World War. Only his poetry is in gesture rather than descriptive words. And he takes the names of the young men who fell in various wars and embosses them painfully into his flesh, which he photographs, and prints onto sheets of fabric, allowing them to billow in the wind, forcing the gesture from the realms of visual art into performative spontaneity on the arms of nature.

But that’s not all. This exhibition touches on several streams of Emmanuel’s thought processes, including works from his breathtaking stone lithograph series of 2011, dealing with different stages in life. Platform 5 is a particularly poignant case in point, as is Table Number 12. The work is painstakingly fine yet bewilderingly wide in its reach. It’s beguilingly simple in focus and dizzyingly deep at the same time.

In Platform 5, people come and go anonymously through turnstiles in a railway station. In Table Number 12, an elderly man puts on his jacket. On a level, these are ordinary images. On another, they reach through the span of what it means to be alive, vulnerable and mortal in this world, thus irrevocably linking The Lost Men images to these that contemplate how transient it all is.

While it’s always a treat to immerse yourself in Emmanuel’s distinctive line work and intensely refined focus, this exhibition touches on the notion of retrospective even though it is not comprehensive and the space dwarfs the work. These bold and subtle gestures need the infinity of hundred-year-old battle fields, now grown green and fertile, as platform to the banners and flags of soldiers’ names forced into the soft flesh, the yielding skin of the living artist. The exhibition in all its sense of preciousness and intimacy becomes as a cipher to the breadth and depth of Emmanuel’s focus on the tactile anonymity of war and the scars it leaves in society, implacably.

  • Impermanence by Paul Emmanuel is at Fried Contemporary Gallery in Brooklyn, Pretoria, until April 7. 012 346 0158.

Head to head with a bunny

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WHO came first: the chocolate egg or the Easter bunny? Photograph courtesy rsg.

THEOLOGY MEETS CHOCOLATE commercialism in this tender little Afrikaans-language Easter comment with a sweet heart and a poignant back story that reflects on purism and the struggles of the elderly. Quintin Roy en die Paashaas (Quintin Roy and the Eastern Bunny) is Radio Sonder Grense’s Easter play which will be broadcast twice on Good Friday this year. It’s a poignant reflection that grows out of a chance meeting between an actor doing the Easter Bunny shtick in a shopping centre and a curmudgeon of a retired priest who lives in a facility for the elderly.

And it’s more than a conflict of chocolate interests. Featuring Francois Stemmet as the decidedly miserable old man called Lodewyck Broderick, and Johny Klein in the bunny suit, the work is an essay on the seriousness of Christian symbols and the platitudes cast in the wake of fertility icons such as rabbits and eggs. Coated all over with a chocolate veneer and a shot of cynicism, this foray into the priorities and dialogues around the table of a home for the elderly, sees an Easter message blossom into fulsomeness.

A little disappointing in the denouement department, the work is sweet and slightly wooden: it promises hilarity with the filching of a whole basket full of promotional chocolate eggs, and the angry conflict between a man in a hurry and another guy in a bunny suit, but the former pastor’s cross sense of conviction keeps the dialogue earnest and discursive and doesn’t allow it to lose its religious edge.

If you’re expecting something that will change your life, Quintin Roy might disappoint, but if you’re looking at a competently developed piece of narrative to stimulate your Easter perambulations, it may be just the ticket.

  • Quintin Roy en die Paashaas is written and directed by Helena Hugo. Featuring technical assistance by Bongi Thomas and Patrick Monana, it is performed by Merlin Balie, Johny Klein, Bertha le Roux-Wahl, Elma Potgieter, Francois Stemmet, Gigi Strydom and Bronwyn van Graan. It will be aired on RSG, 100-104fm at 1pm and again at 7pm on Good Friday, March 30: rsg.co.za

We, the fallen giants

Noah

ONLY connect. A scene from PJ Sabbagha’s Noah. Photograph by John Hogg.

SOMETIMES A WORK reaches your sensibilities in an ineffable way, giving voice to your most secret and unuttered notions of the rawness of loss, love and letting go. Sometimes that work can touch all those nerves and succeed in being so supremely beautiful and wistfully unhinged that you throw all levels of intellectual unpicking to the wind and allow yourself, body and soul to be enfolded in what you are experiencing. The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative brought Noah to this year’s Dance Umbrella, a work which embodied all of these values.

It’s a piece premised on the biblical tale of Noah, the bloke instructed by God – in the face of derision from his peers – to build an ark in anticipation of a great flood that would drown all the bad people in the world. The ark was to be made of certain woods at certain dimensions, and it would contain two of each kind of species of animal. Benjamin Britten constructed his quirky opera Noye’s Fludde about it, in 1958 – as did countless other creative practitioners over the years. It’s a biblical tale which lends itself to popular memory and moralising.

Rather than take a conventional narrative flavour, however, this work looks at the tale from within the water. From within the souls of those left behind. The fallen giants. From the empathetic perspective of the birds at the end of a light, magicked into relevance with solar power, rather than an olive branch, the integration of dancers and swimmers, shadow bodies and real ones coalesce to create something that you feel you must whisper about when you engage with it. It’s a feast of dancing in the dark and videography that’s cropped to focus on what is essential. And yet, yet, the work is not precious in the stuffy, earnest sense of the term. It’s stream of consciousness at its most sophisticated. As you watch the bodies of the dancers entwine and intertwine, become ambiguous and lose their sense of self, and their sense of scale, so do you feel enriched at having encountered the meditative magic of this experience.

Unequivocally, Noah, alongside this year’s works by Steven Cohen and Robyn Orlin, captured the potency of what Dance Umbrella is, was and could always be. This triumvirate of important South African dance works which touch the soul of a developed aesthetic and a sophisticated understanding of how dance can stretch makes for a magnificent swan song to a treasured festival.

  • Noah is conceived by PJ Sabbagha and created by Sabbagha in collaboration with the cast: Nicholas Aphane, Athena Mazarakis, Shawn Mothupi. It features creative input from the cast (set and costumes), Cold Play/Nicholas Aphane (music), Thabo Pule (lighting and technical design), PJ Sabbagha (video filming) and Jessica Dennyschen. The video performance is by the cast and Collen Makua, Mpho Makuwa, PJ Sabbagha, Oupa Sibeko and Lucia Walker. The work, part of Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella in its 30th season performed on March 16 and 17 at the Dance Factory in Newtown, Johannesburg. Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.

Pixie dust and make believe

magicalmoon

TRANSFIXED by our big sister, Wendy. Michael (Danny Meaker) and John (Daniel Keith Geddes), little boys who love stories. Photograph courtesy National Children’s Theatre.

ARE THERE STILL children in this world who make forts out of blankets and cushions, from which they conduct complex battles and adventures? Do children in this day and age still go on wild adventures in their own back yards, where they lie on their backs and peer at the moon and pretend they can fly? This is a play that with an incredibly sophisticated understanding of the potency of childhood, articulately explores make believe, and in doing so, it takes the JM Barrie tale of Peter Pan by its horns and doesn’t let go, not for a minute.

It’s a fascinating scenario. Barrie lived in the latter part of the 19th century, dying 37 years into the 20th. The yarns he wrote are wild and manic, but the English he used reflects his times, and is often prohibitively detailed for young readers to access. Mike Kenny – like others before him, including Walt Disney in 1953 – has taken the thread of Peter Pan and with a solemn nod to Barrie and a wink to the children in the audiences, set it free, in contemporary language with beautiful songs.

And Francois Theron and his creative team in turn, have taken this lead even further, dotting it with a deliciously idiosyncratic set, magnificent choreography and music on the part of the cast that lend an element of sheer perfection to the work. The cast, headed by Nirvana Nokwe-Mseleku as Wendy Darling, the authoritative big sister, and Daniel Keith Geddes in the role of John, the middle child – as well as Captain Hook, give it an edge that will set your child’s heart on fire. Supported by Danny Meaker as Peter Pan – and Michael, the youngest Darling child – and Phiphi-Gu’mmy Moletsane in the role of Tinkerbell, the oft sulky fairy, the work sings with synchronicity and wisdom.  It has to do with a mix of the sense of possibility and that of ordinariness that can bring a crocodile with a ticking clock in his tummy into the context of lost boys who fell out of their prams and mermaids who are beautiful but not nice.

Touching on everything that is central to what being a child means, the work is rough and tumble all the way, punctuated by the ‘aarghs’ of pirates, a beloved absent daddy’s beloved dressing gown, and some delicious cameos with a ukulele and a mouth organ. It engages with gender issues and power struggles, with the fear of growing up and becoming something or someone else – and in the process forgetting the fairies in the garden. It’s a tale of madcap adventure in the confines of your big sister’s love and care and creativity and one which opens your heart to the what ifs that dot the horizon. Along the same kind of lines as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe staged some months ago by this theatre, the work lacks forced contrivance. It is premised on the children themselves and the magic in their hearts. And this becomes a gift to your child, something he or she will never forget.

  • Underneath a Magical Moon is adapted for stage by Mike Kenny, based on Peter Pan by James Barrie. It is directed by Francois Theron and features creative input by Cathrine Hopkins (musical direction), Tandi Gavin (choreography), Sarah Roberts (set and costumes) and Jane Gosnell (lighting). It is performed by Daniel Keith Geddes, Danny Meaker, Phiphi-Gu’mmy Moletsane and Nirvana Nokwe-Mseleku until April 15 at the National Children’s Theatre in Parktown, Johannesburg. Call 011 484 1584.

Theatre to stay home for

Kobus

AT the helm of the theatre of the mind: Kobus Burger, RSG’s executive producer for radio drama. Photograph courtesy RSG.

WOLWEDANS IN DIE skemer (the popular afternoon serial by Leon van Nierop) was my programme, as a child,” says Kobus Burger, executive director for drama on Radio Sonder Grense (RSG), South Africa’s Afrikaans-language Public Broadcasting Service, which is under the aegis of the SABC. “If I missed an episode, it was a very serious matter.”  Radio is alive and well in this society, or is it? Burger chatted to My View about the station’s upcoming season of radio dramas, which starts on March 30 as well as the challenges of the medium.

Drama has always been close to Burger’s heart; he’s enjoyed stints as an art critic and a teacher of writing skills in his career trajectory. Indeed, he initiated the RSG Kunstefees, an arts festival all on radio, in November of 2014. It was a fascinating initiative which brought theatre fare into your life through the wireless. No jackets required. Sadly, the festival was put on a back burner, last year.

“It was budget that put this project on hold,” he says. “It was a lovely project but not part of our mandate. It was part of our innovation strategy, but not a must have. Last year we followed it up with a smaller boutique festival, called RSG Skatkis. And hopefully, if there is funding, RSG Kunstefees will be back.”

Curiously, RSG’s listenership comprises people who might not be fluent Afrikaans speakers. Burger explains that they listen because it is good quality programming and there’s something for everyone. Built on a model which evokes Springbok Radio (1950-1985), it’s a medium which warms the cockles of people’s hearts and hits on the nostalgia button, every time.

“Audio is so amazing, particularly in South Africa,” he adds. “Video is much more expensive and inconvenient because of the priceyness of data. The research says radio is still the most accessible, because people don’t always have access to TV.

“It’s immensely creative and completely non-visual. And with these kinds of limitations, you can do amazing things. You can go anywhere, do anything. It’s never a budget issue, because with audio you can literally travel to the moon, and back.”

From March 30 (Good Friday), a season of 14 Afrikaans plays will grace your radio. A play is broadcast each Thursday evening at 8pm – after Easter Friday, that is. The season begins with an Easter play by Helena Hugo – which is part of the station’s mandate. Then, with the exception of a translation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, directed by Suzanne van Wijk, the season is rich with brand new names and fabulous yarns written by winners of the radio drama writing competition which has been sponsored by Sanlam for the past 22 years.

The competition generates between 120 and 130 new plays each year. With a purse of R100 000 for all the winners collectively, it’s not a bad incentive. If you win first prize, you’re looking at R37 000. And that’s for a piece of sustained writing of between 40 and 50 pages.

Growing playwrights is not uncomplicated, but it can be very rewarding, he continues. “You have to nurture your writers. New and original drama scripts can be a challenge with some Afrikaans theatre festivals. That’s probably why we see so many translations and adaptations of novels. And sometimes playwrights get precious about their work and won’t take criticism. Some insist that their first draft is the final draft. With our writers, we’re very strict in terms of enabling the best possible work to develop out of an idea. And luckily most of the radio writers like the suggestions and are excited about taking another look at their script.”

Over the next 14 weeks, My View undertakes to bring you reviews of and links to the plays comprising this year’s season of RSG winners, as we did toward the end of last years, with such remarkable works as an Afrikaans translation of Pirandello’s The Man with the Flower in his Mouth, and Dalene Matthee’s exquisite Judasbok, as well as Marion Erskine’s chilling Akwarius, among others. We’re in for another delightful rollercoaster of diversity.

The playwrights responsible for these works include:  Sophia van Taak, a magazine journalist and TV presenter who brings Springgety to air; Lee Doubell, with his work Rommel, Rommel (Rubbish, rubbish) has written before for SAfm; Albert Short, the playwright responsible for ‘n Voorlopige begrafnis (A provisional funeral), is in the finance world, then there’s a new science fiction work by seasoned writer, Schalk Schoombie.

Hittegolf (Heat wave) by Martyn le Roux is about the ozone layers breaking up – it’s a small family drama which takes on a surrealist madness. Martyn’s very interesting and he’s won a lot of acknowledgement so far in English and Afrikaans. At the moment he is developing one of his RSG radio drama scripts into a full-length feature film. It’s called Die Pelsloper and its scheduled to be screened in 2019. Martyn’s grown remarkably and he’s eager to develop with criticism. He might very well be the new generation’s PG Du Plessis.”

So what else is on the radio theatre horizon? There’s a murder mystery with nudist elements, a translation of an old folk tale which sees a father making the ultimate sacrifice when his son is trapped in a borehole. There’s a tale about the damage that gossip can bring and another is an ode to poetry and literature through the eyes of the elderly. The season is wide, the pickings are there for the listening.

  • Tune in to www.rsg.co.za 100-104fm

 

Pretty shards and Steve Jobs’s legacy

Doll

BEAUTIFUL me: The serious girls in Doll. Photograph by John Hogg.

THE TROUBLING TRUTHS of the prevalence of the selfie and the way in which contemporary society is so deeply focused on its cell phones is something that has been pondered by thinkers and hacks alike. Social media seems to be here to stay, and it’s pulling our values shamelessly into a morass of vanity, narcissism and mediocrity. Owen Lonzar and Sylvaine Strike take these issues into their speculative loupe in constructing Doll. The work is carefully stylised and teeters over into issues of sexism and stereotypes. While aesthetically tight, it states the obvious, but it’s complicated with red herrings and doesn’t go beyond its basic premises.

Not even the physical charm and magnetic presence of Craig Morris could save the soul of this work, however, which is thankfully not very long, but so infused with its observations about cell phone mania and selfie admiration that it doesn’t take any conceptual leaps which would add to its narrative muscle or its value as a dance work. Instead, with its precise choreography, its clear and bold lighting and its stereotypical stories, it fits feasibly into the realm of entertainment rather than of contemporary dance.

With curiously robotic performances by the lead “dolls” who are dressed in a way that makes them reminiscent of 1920s ‘flappers’ – Nina Erasmus, Nicola Niehaus, Paige Farlene and Nosiphiwo Samente, the work alludes to a Stepford Wives/Handmaid’s Tale kind of metaphor, but it’s not something that Ira Levin or Margaret Atwood would have penned. Central to the work is a red herring: a character performed by Donovan Yaards, who wears a Rocky Horror Picture Show-evocative drag, complete with thigh-high shiny boots and a corset. He’s in and he’s out, rolling his eyes, blinging and fawning as he must, but we’re not given to understand why or even why he’s there.

The work plays with stereotypes as it looks at ordinary guys getting what looks like mail order plastic faux girls, through their Tinder-evocative selection gestures. It’s about bums and tits and pouted lips, and the manner in which girls are available for men’s delectation. The ‘character’ sits alone, between the two fences, being neither boy nor girl, really, and offers nothing by way of nuance, meaning or subtlety, which leaves this work feeling like a bit of pretty fluff rather than much else.

  • Doll is co-created by Owen Lonzar and Sylvaine Strike. It features creative input by Owen Lonzar and Sylvaine Strike (costumes) and Oliver Hauser (lighting) and is performed by Ryan Dittmann, Nina Erasmus, Paige Farlerne, Sara Feldman, Thapelo Kotlolo, Franscecka Leech, Craig Morris, Nicola Niehaus, Nosiphiwo Samente, Melissa Schafer, Hannah van Tonder and Donovan Yaards. The work, part of Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella in its 30th season performed on March 17 and 18 at the Wits Main Theatre in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.

Nightmare in the Amphitheatre

Chauke

RIDING on the back of a blinded man. Lionel Ackerman and Thulani Chauke in Nothing Makes Sense. Photograph by John Hogg.

LET US BOMBARD our audience with flashing lights, a small dark venue simmering with the residue of stage smoke as they come in, and bits and bobs of sampled sound, thrown at them with such aggression that the context is illegible and the synapses of their brains forget how to behave. After that, we can show them how wonderfully we dance. This seems to be the thinking in Thulani Chauke’s contemplation on violence, entitled Nothing Makes Sense.

Featuring Chauke opposite Lionel Ackerman, a dancer with one leg, it’s actually a fine work premised on ideas around brokenness in society. Chauke dances the work either incapacitated in a white bag, or with a black box on his head, which renders him sightless, and the give and take, throw and catch between the two is wonderful to watch.

However, it’s an interesting lesson about the fourth wall and audience participation: does the work need to spill out emotionally into the audience’s lives in such a way that they are traumatised by the experience? Maybe. We saw this in Sello Pesa’s work, in this festival, as well as Robyn Orlin’s. In Pesa’s piece, the audience was confused as to where the lines were drawn. In Orlin’s, members of the audience were called upon to perform in an impromptu and potentially humiliating context. But in Chauke’s what we get is an infringement of audience sanctity. No one rushes into your space, and physically rattles your cage, but the technology blasts your head off.

And while Chauke’s point about violence and physical ability is absolutely clear and well-defined, blinding your audience with induced migraines is not really the most productive way of letting them engage in the magnificence of your dance. It’s a pity. Chauke and Ackerman are tough and careful dancers, and their movement is strong and articulate, but the work doesn’t sing to the audience.

  • Nothing Makes Sense is choreographed by Thulani Chauke. It features creative input by Khaya (costumes), Thulani Chauke (music) and Thabo Pule and Thulani Chauke (lighting and set), and it is performed by Lionel Ackerman and Thulani Chauke. The work, part of Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella in its 30th season performed on March 17 and 18 at the Wits Amphitheatre in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.

Moving into Dance’s hope and glory

MIDM

ODE to the value of being differently abled. A scene from Moving Into Dance and Enable Through Dance’s The Call for Hope. Photograph by John Hogg.

COMPLETE WITH FEATHERS and upside down books, disabled dancers and movement evocative of ancient African dance traditions, to say nothing of their own, Moving Into Dance Mophatong presented itself on Dance Umbrella this year, with due aplomb and an earnest attempt at a snap shot of life, the universe and everything.

This was clearest – showing flaws in the desire to put everything, but everything, into the pot – in the first piece on the bill: Art Life Life Art Art Life Art, choreographed by David Gouldie. Beginning with some really interesting use of stage lights which evoked the faux rape scene in Peter Greenaway’s 1993 The Baby of Mâcon, it’s an image which doesn’t develop. And it’s one of many.

The potential of each metaphor presented gets muddied with everything but the kitchen sink. Indeed, there may have been a kitchen sink in the mix, which included a migraine-inducing flashing of images, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, open books on the head, giant feathers and much else.

As you read the programme, you realise there was even the work of L’Atelier artists in there. Sadly, with the speed at which this piece was thrust at the audience, you only had the time to recognise the things you knew very well, such as Edvard Munch’s The Scream, whose pose you might have been subconsciously emulating as the work reached closure. The dancers did admirably under these circumstances, but with discombobulated lights and flashing sequences, it became a piece more about technological flamboyance than history, or, indeed dance.

Fortunately, it was the programme’s starting point and it really did get better and even better from that point. Next up was the fruit of collaborative work between dancers associated with Enable Through Dance, and MIDM’s company: A piece entitled The Call for Hope. Featuring multiply abled dancers under the mentorship of Gladys Agulhas, the work was moving and beautiful, a little long, but clear in its narrative trajectory. With a broken chair in the midst of the stage, the idea of brokenness is cast, and as a one-legged dancer brings himself onto the stage, you understand. But then, you don’t. The skill with which so-called disabled dancers, ranging from people with dwarfism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome and the like, converted gesture into poetry made you forget that the ‘ordinary’ world utters pity in their wake. These are empowered dancers, making the world just a little more magical.

The final work on the programme reached right back to MIDM’s heart and South Africa’s dance history with Stone Cast Ritual, a work choreographed by the company’s founder, Sylvia Glasser in the 1990s. It’s a formulaic work along the choreographic lines of her ground-breaking piece Transformations (1991), in which sequence and gesture are melded with the poetry of shadow and coordination. As you sit in the audience of this piece, you wonder what energy a collaboration between this aesthetic and these dancers could bring with Jayesperi Moopen’s Tribhangi dance company with its distinctly classical Indian style.

You also wonder what the whole work would feel like in the start absence of piped music. The music prevails in certain aspects of the work, but not all. And when there’s no evidence of the music, something else happens; the work has a vocal energy of its own. The stones in the dancers’ hands touch one another with gentle specificity and you feel yourself swathed in the hypnotic energy of the piece.

The one irregularity in this work was spacing, however: where dancers were not always consistent in ensuring how they fitted into the spaces between one another, which messed a little with the work’s aesthetic.

The value of Embracing Gravity as a teaser showcase – the company celebrates its 40th year this year – to the achievements of MIDM cannot be under estimated. But it does reveal a glaring hole in Dance Umbrella’s programme. Another contemporary dance company, in addition to Tribhangi and MIDM, celebrates its 30th this year – and that’s Benoni-based Sibikwa. While there are dancers who boast history with the company, there’s not a special dedication to its aesthetics or achievements on the programme.

  • Embracing Gravity, the Moving into Dance showcase performed in the Wits Theatre, Braamfontein, part of Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella in its 30th season, on March 15 and 16. It comprised the following works:
  • Art Life Life Art Art Life Art choreographed by David Gouldie and featuring creative input from David Gouldie (lighting), Karen Logan, Jacobs van Heerden and Mark Edwards (video), Liam Magner and Karen van Pletsen (music soundscape), Llian Loots (text), and showcasing the visual art work of Jessica Junga, Gideon Appah, Banele Khoza, Temba Sifiso and Thierry Amery;
  • The Call for Hope directed and staged by Lesego Dihemo, Otsile Masemola, Sussera Olyn and Mark Hawkins featuring lighting design by Wilhelm Disbergen and performed by Dineo Bofelo, Kaho Britou, Mickey-lee Cooper, Tshwarelo Golelwang, Ranell Malapan, Chardonnay Mars, Mapaseka Mokebo, Thabo Naha, Vuyo Qhaba, Justino Rickets, Kgopotso Siabe, Asanda Sobandla, Angie Venter, Jabu Vilakazi and Philile Vilakazi, with Enable Through Dance facilitators, Tshepo Molusi and Andile Nzuza; and
  • Stone Cast Ritual choreographed by Sylvia Magogo Glasser with creative input by Muzi Shili and Portia Mashigo (restaging), Wilhelm Disbergen (lighting), Gabrelle Roth (music) and Sarah Roberts (costumes).
  • The MIDM company comprises Oscar Buthelezi, Lesego Dihemo, Teboho Gilbert Letele, Otsile Masemola, Eugene Mashiane, Thabang Mdlalose, Sunnyboy Motau, Sussera Olyn, Asanda Ruda and Thenjiwe Soxokoshe.
  • Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.