Moving into Dance’s hope and glory


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 or call 086 111 0005.

And now, for something completely manly


A door full of men: Vladimir Ippolitov and Fana Tshabalala in Men. Photograph by John Hogg.

ONCE AGAIN, FEMINISM is de rigueur in our society and young women espousing these values emphatically believe themselves to be the first of their kind, as they spearhead a wave of political correctness in behaviour and talk. But what of the men? Fana Tshabalala throws some choreographic light on the plight of the contemporary males of the species in a new collaboration with Swiss dancer Vladimir Ippolitov, entitled simply Men.

But make no mistake: this is not a misogynistic work on any level. Indeed, it casts a savvy eye at the rigours with which men are caught; the imperatives in terms of behaviour that is taught in a conventional context. It’s a stripped down piece characterised by a series of empty hanging frames, alluding to doors, windows and mirrors. Matthew Macfarlane, manning the guitar and the laptop sits in the centre of the space, like a god, manipulating and plucking the sound that gives the piece its core, and Tshabalala opposite Ippolitov populate the work with a cross-pollinated energy that is at once gentle and aggressive, officious and playful.

Men takes the notion of security guards in a new direction which embraces everything in its path, from sexuality to combat. It begins with a posturing that evokes a 1977 work by Marina Abramovic and Ulay, except these men are dressed in an all-purpose khaki  uniform, exuding the officiousness of guys who have these jobs, veering as they do between real danger and total boredom.

The work is tight, the choreography beautiful and unusual and it reflects on layer upon layer of association. Here there’s the issue of PTSD, there there’s coyness and campness. Not a humourless piece, it’s a quiet groundbreaking work that examines the contained violence of men in a power play and men in a warring context. There are unforgettable images cast in the characters’ stance, presenting values with simplicity, clarity and a unique dance language.

  • Men is choreographed by Fana Tshabalala. It features creative input by Merry K Designs (costumes), Matthew Macfarlane (music) and Mandla Mtshali (lighting and set). It was performed by Vladimir Ippolitov and Fana Tshabalala, part of Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella in its 30th season, on March 10 and 11 at the Joburg Fringe Theatre in Braamfontein. Visit or call 086 111 0005.

Cacophony of love for Hillbrow


MADNESS and cacophony. John Sithole (centre) in a scene from Hillbrowification. Photograph by John Hogg.

CONTEMPORARY POLISH COMPOSER Krzysztof Penderecki is known for, amongst other things, the bravery – or madness — to allow performers freedom of diverse expression within a defined rubric. So, in works of his which deal with issues such as witch hunts and nuclear bombs, for instance, you get a myriad of violinists reaching for heaven or hell with their instruments and the notes they choose to play. The result? A total cacophony. But it’s a cacophony not without borders. Something similar happens in Constanza Macras’s new work choreographed in conjunction with dancers associated with her company, Dorky Park, and citizens of the suburb of Hillbrow, entitled Hillbrowification.

It’s a rollicking monster of a piece which headlines the notion of joy, at all costs. Loosely and sometimes incomprehensively pinned to a fantasy tale about Planet Hope and how its people need to rejig their values, the work, clocking in about ten minutes too long, is by and large a big jol for the performers, but aesthetically, it is balanced in a Rococo, carnivalesque kind of metaphor.

You might leave the space with your head spinning, from the plentiful bellowing into microphones, music at full blast and sheer infection in the energy of the work. It’s Macras’s aesthetic translated with all its rough edges and idiosyncrasies into the immigrant gateway of South Africa that is known as Hillbrow, and as such, it is a remarkable success. With Miki Shoji casting her sprite-like presence around from under a shocking pink wig, Emil Bordás adding to the frisson of the carnivalesque in his full-head mask comprising large spikes and John Sithole in the dress of a 19th century courtesan, the work still doesn’t attain the level of chaotic discipline Macras unequivocally achieved in Hell on Earth, a work performed for Dance Umbrella ten years ago, but it does offer a sense of the unmitigated celebration in flatlands where the people are poor and the pragmatic challenges harsh.

The question must be asked, however, if this kind of free-for-all fits into community upliftment and along those lines, whether it has a place on an arts festival stage. This has more to do with the array of children in the work than much else. Like Donkey child, a totally magical piece, performed in this theatre under the Outreach Foundation’s rubric several years ago, it’s a magnet for very young people. Unlike Donkey child, it’s not always the adult performers, who take the aesthetic lead in the work.

Ultimately, though Hillbrowification aims to take all that the word ‘Hillbrow’ conveys and to toss it into the ether with a bit of luminous pink sparkly things, some full head masks, lovely fight choreography and an energy that you will want to bottle. It’s a pity a little more of the substance of the suburb was not brought into the fray, however. For as long as people have been arriving in this neck of the woods for sanctuary, Hillbrow’s arguably been their first port of call.

  • Hillbrowificiation is directed by Constanza Macras assisted by Helena Casas and Linda Michael Mkhwanazi, and choreographed by Constanza Macras assisted by Lisi Estará It features creative input by Tamara Saphir (dramaturgy), Roman Handt (costumes), Sibonelo Sithembe and Roggerio Soares for Outreach Foundation Boitumelo (stage and props), and Sergio de Carvalho Pessanha assisted by Phana Dube (lighting and technical design). It is performed by Emil Bordás, Rendani Dlamini, Zibusiso Dube, Nompilo Hadebe, Karabo Kgatle, Tshepang Lebelo, Jackson Magotlane, Brandon Magengele, Vusi Magoro, Bongani Mangena, Tisetso Maselo, Amahle Meine, Sakhile Mlalazi, Sandile Mthembu, Bigboy Ndlovu, Thato Ndlovu, Simiso Ngubane, Blessing Opoka, Miki Shoji, Pearl Sigwagwa, John Sithole, Ukho Somadlaka and Lwandlile Thabethe. The work, part of Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella in its 30th season performed on March 9 and 10 at the Hillbrow Theatre in Johannesburg. Visit or call 086 111 0005.



The magnificence of Albert


MY orange, my orgasm: Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza indulges with abandon in oranges for Africa. Photograph by John Hogg.

AS THE SONOROUS chords of Mozart’s Requiem sweep you completely off your feet, expect to have all your senses, including that of expectation, utterly seduced, mashed and repurposed. Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza plus Robyn Orlin and Marianne Fassler have created a brand new piece called And so you see … our honourable blue sky and ever enduring sun … can only be consumed slice by slice … and it debuts in Johannesburg this week. There’s one opportunity for you to experience it for yourself. Because experience it, you must: who knows when this combination of talents might appear on Johannesburg’s stages again.

A known collaborator with Orlin in the international arena for several years now, Khoza who debuts here on Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella stages, is an inyanga. He’s also a very extraordinary performer who makes mincemeat of audience expectations, playing with precious values and the ineffable monster of political correctness with gay abandon. He is not afraid to comment on his own identity, as he orgasmically plunges into oranges in a way that will grab you off guard. The only protagonist in this larger-than-life piece, Khoza fills the stage with his voice and his laughter, with an edge of fear and a cloak that evokes a peacock’s tail feathers in full abundance; he sits like royalty and takes on Christ-like connotations, he dances with Putin and warbles like a cockatoo. He has unquestionable nobility and exudes an atavism from behind a cellophane mask, yet he is as vulnerable as you or I.

Over the years, Robyn Orlin has selected performers with mad little edges with whom she has collaborated. Think Ann Masina and Toni Morkel, Gerard Bester and Nelisiwe Xaba, to name a few. Khoza joins these ranks and brings a level of performative fire to the work that will keep you sitting on the edge of your seat because right up until the last nuance, you don’t know what to expect. Unlike any of Orlin’s pieces so far, And so you see … takes a completely different tilt into the audience. Does it break Orlin’s own rules? That’s difficult to say. But what is clear, is it shifts the parameters of expectation even wider, and as you sit there, you weep with joy at the spectacle, at its anarchy and at the fact that anything goes.

And so you see … is about a performer’s body which is glorious and magnificent in its celebration of itself, man breasts and all, as it’s about the true heart of Africans – we dance with our weapons, thus putting them to much better use than killing. The work enfolds political narrative and the demon of homophobia. There’s a moment of forced audience participation and a kiss blown to the Cullinan diamond in Queen Elizabeth’s crown. Citing everything from Sara Baartman to how Africans thank, it’s a rollicking and sophisticated piece of work that makes you remember why Dance Umbrella always had a heart of fire.

  • And so you see … our honourable blue sky and ever enduring sun … can only be consumed slice by slice … is choreographed by Robyn Orlin with Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza and Léopard Frock. It features design by Marianne Fassler and Leopard Frock (costumes), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Nono Nkoane and Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoze (music), Laïs Foulc (lighting) and Thabo Pule (camera work). It is performed by Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza. The work, part of Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella in its 30th season performs again on Wednesday March 14 at the Dance Factory in Newtown, Johannesburg. Visit or call 086 111 0005.

To brave the elements, unapologetically


SILHOUETTES and shadows, our world and another. A still from Jayesperi Moopen’s Elements. Photograph by John Hogg.

THERE’S SOMETHING EMINENTLY satisfying in dividing a work into four disparate parts and premising beauty around it. Vivaldi did it with the four seasons, creating great poetry out of a pure love of the idiosyncrasies of nature. Jayesperi Moopen does something similar in her collaboration of dancers associated with her company Tribhangi Dance Theatre and Debbie Turner’s Cape Dance Company to celebrate the four elements that make up this world: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. And Elements is an uncompromising, precise work which deliciously melds classical Indian dance values with contemporary dance gestures. It’s like a fresh breath of unpretentious air and will leave you deeply enriched.

Featuring a mesmerising play of shadows and silhouettes, glorious colour and impeccable costumes, the dancers, from the quirky movements of their necks and wrists to the fluidity of their spines, together and individually, create complete magic and wonder onstage.

Curiously, unlike some other Dance Umbrella pieces this year so far, the work has sound which doesn’t threaten to shatter your head. It’s not demure or gentle; it’s strong and resonant and works with the dancers’ dynamic beautifully, but it doesn’t explode into noise at all.

In the middle of the piece, there’s a digression and a videoed interview with the collaborating dancers and Moopen. While this is instructive to watch, there’s an element of “Huh?” to the interjection. You’re not explained why the dancing stops and the video begins, nor why it ends when it does and the dancing continues again.

Skirting and playing with an intricate aesthetic that is different to anything many of them have danced before, there’s a give and take of dialogue and dance language that is easy on the eye. And speaking of easy on the eye, a young male dancer, Shanolin Govender injects something absolutely extraordinary into the energy reflected on stage.

He has a presence which challenges the conventionality of his peers in the ensemble and he moves with a fluidity that clearly infuses him all the way down to his personality. When Govender is performing, oftentimes, the other dancers melt into anonymity and he holds the floor with grace and elegance.

Something also must be said for the unequivocal value of allowing a dance genre to retain its form and to celebrate its own cultural roots. While far from cloistered in a sense of preciousness, the signature work of Tribhangi is rhythmically satisfying, aesthetically magnificent and yet unapologetically associated with the dance language of classical Indian movement. And it will knock your socks off.

  • Elements is choreographed by Jayesperi Moopen. It features design by Shankar Mahadevan, Craig Armstrong, Shpongle, Anoushka Shankar, Daby Toure (music) and Kesavan Pillay (music editing); Wilhelm Disbergen (lighting) and Dex Goodman (videography). It is performed by Shanolin Govender, Emily Isted, Mia Labuschagne, Carmen Lotz, Kearabetswe Mogotsi, Priyadarshni Naidoo, Priyen Naidoo, Shiyanie Naidoo, Pavishen Paideya, Farrel Smart, Danielle Wagner and Marlin Zoutman. The work, part of Johannesburg’s Dance Umbrella in its 30th season performs again on Wednesday March 14 at the Wits Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Visit or call 086 111 0005.

Bling, sting and muscling


THE power of discipline. Lee Kotze in In C. Photograph courtesy Darkroom Contemporary.

THERE’S A PARTICULAR kind of aesthetic that is central to what the Dance Umbrella has brought audiences, for the last 30 years. It’s about rough approximations of narrative meaning, beautiful dance in a clearly rehearsed structure, and above all, an earnestness in the work’s aesthetic that lends it solemnity. Not every work or every show manifests these qualities; they’re very distinct, and utterly present in the festival’s double bill, which featured work by Musa Hlatshwayo and Louise Coetzer.

Hlatshwayo’s Doda is a two-hander, which is about seven minutes too long, and about seven hundred decibels too loud, but it’s engaging and visually exciting enough to hold the audience tight. Premised on the scary perceptions about the culpability of young girls who are raped and murdered in a township context, the work seeks to unpack values that stem from church-bound society, sexist mores and the uncomfortable proximity of living spaces.

The work features jackets infused with LED-lights, blinged to the hilt with safety pins and cash, and radios playing with sonic static and dust, and while the narrative development of the piece is established with clarity, its repetitive development becomes a little numbing. A diagrammatic reflection on space is painted on the theatre’s floor, offering an understanding of context, which is claustrophobic yet clean in its specificity.

But ramped all the way to the loudest, the sound is the element that may cause you most stress. As the work reaches closure and the sound dwindles, you find yourself able to breathe once more.

Enter In C, a work by Louise Coetzer and her Cape Town-based company Darkroom Contemporary. This extremely balletic piece will take you back to the folds of contemporary dance that took flight some 30 years ago. It’s an abstract work, as much about the music as the interpretation. Five dancers in various shades of pastel, populate the stage with an urgency and a clarity that keeps you looking, but it is the compositional energy of Llewellyn Afrika that keeps your head spinning.

When he’s performing onstage, you have difficulty in drawing your eyes from him, and indeed, the eye contact between dancers is quite remarkable and very present in this work. It lends the approach a sense of modulated connection and empathy, which adds to its flavour and watchability. And indeed, the sound of this work, handled via the laptops of Mark van Niekerk and Dean Henning is loud enough: your eyeballs don’t feel like they’re going to explode; neither does your heart.

It is combinations like these two pieces which present a burst of light, a muscular discipline and the serious focus that has, over the years become emblematic of Dance Umbrella, reflecting a well-curated programme.

  • Double Bill featured Doda which is choreographed by Musa Hlatshwayo. It is performed by Musa Hlatshwayo and Sibonelo Mchunu, and features creative input by Musa Hlatshwayo (costumes), and Lerato Ledwaba (lighting and technical). It also featured In C, which is choreographed by Louise Coetzer. It is performed by Llewellyn Afrika, Cilna Katzke, Lee Kotze, Joy Millar and Kayla Schultze and features creative input by Henri (costumes), Mark van Niekerk, Dean Henning and Terry Riley (music). They were part of the 30th iteration of Dance Umbrella, and performed on March 10 and 11 at the Dance Factory, Newtown. Visit or call 086 111 0005.

Any colour but black or white


THE brilliance of colour, with Moya Michael. Photograph by John Hogg.

CAN A SWAN only be white or black? What would the idea of a coloured swan do to the stereotype? There’s something uniquely ephemeral yet potent about Moya Michael. She dances with a sense of rigour and purpose but there’s an ease to her focus, a smile on her lips. Her new collaboration with artist Tracey Rose, entitled Coloured Swans 1: Khoiswan puts the complexity of being coloured under the proverbial loupe and it engages with everything from theory and history to light and shadow to pejorative words.

Comprising several different parts, the piece looks at coloured urban geography reflected in the dancer’s body. It compiles a soundscape of pejorative words, invented over time to insult the people who are neither white nor black. It is backgrounded by a text explaining the colonialist contradictions and the sense of betrayal that not fitting in comes with. And above all, it features a body of costumes which feel poised on taking wing in their sense of vibrant colour and texture.

Michael elegantly infuses the space with her whirligig energy and her hair.  Spinning this way and that, she embraces the hugeness of the stage with verve and directness. A character called “Lacrimosa” is alluded to, with a morose presence and a potentially hilariously self-deprecating reputation to boot. This is a bit of a downside to the work, however, as it forces Michael into a comic stand-up kind of role, which doesn’t augur well: Michael’s primary talent lies in the way in which she magicks space with her body, rather than imitating different coloured stereotypes.

The work unfolds to include a section in which there’s a fascinating play of shadows, but your wow-shaped mouth rapidly turns into a yawn when the flickering doesn’t wane. It assaults your sense of equilibrium and turns soporific rather quickly.  Indeed, it’s encouraging to remember that this piece is just the first manifestation of the project, because it seems to be skittering on the surface of the issue. Hopefully, in the wake of Dance Umbrella, dance audiences in Johannesburg will get to experience the project’s development.

  • Coloured Swans 1: Khoiswan is choreographed, conceptualised and performed by Moya Michael and Tracey Rose. It features creative input by Moya Michael and Tracey Rose (video and set), Povilas Bastys (costumes), Mitsuki Matsumoto (soundscape and music), Kitty Kortes Lynch (dramaturgy) and Mandla Mtshali (lighting). It was part of the 30th iteration of Dance Umbrella, and performed on Thursday March 8 and Friday March 9 at the Dance Factory, Newtown. Visit or call 086 111 0005.