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.

You can lean on me

TRUST and the meaning of leaning: Gerard Bester and Alan Parker. Photograph by John Hogg.

WHAT ARE FRIENDS for if we cannot lean on them? Brainstorming the notion across a myriad of popular songs, Sometimes I have to lean in … is a sheer gem of a work featuring two dance veterans who do not have dancers’ bodies any longer. It’s a work that flies deliciously in the face of stereotypes, but it’s one that reaches deep and touches deeper.

Elev(i)ate was a dance project undertaken by choreographer Athena Mazarakis in 2010. It was a spoof on the idea of a strong man, and featured Mazarakis in an improvised space beneath the staircase of the Market Theatre, lifting people off the ground. It was about working with gravity and tipping points, but on a more conceptual level, it was about the power to move individuals.

In this work performed by Gerard Bester and Alan Parker, something similar is articulated. The idea and the meaning of leaning on someone has been splayed out through songs, fabulous timing, a fantastic dollop of dance nostalgia and some glorious dead pan clowning. The two men’s interaction in their egos and their bodies, in word and movement, is wonderful to watch, and it’s a dialogue as much about words as it is about bodies in space.

And just when you think the give and take begins to tire, the dancers embark on the most majestic and humble pas-de-deux to the tune of Saint-Saëns’s The Swan, arguably the most loved movement of his Carnival of the Animals suite (1886). It’s dance which is about intimacy as it is about male gesture and the ethos of recognising the other, and it is dance to make you weep because of how it indulges in the gloriousness of ordinariness.

At this point, the work’s slapstick self-deprecation and bravado dissolves and you’re left with two men making vulnerable poetry with the humdrum nature of their bodies. It’s a work with no tricks or gimmicks, no sleight of hands brought about by technology, just two guys chewing the proverbial fat and making sense of the world around them. And of their dance dreams. And, of course, making space for a little more beauty in our world.

  • Sometimes I have to lean in … is choreographed and performed by Gerard Bester and Alan Parker and features creative input by Gavin Krastin (costumes), George Formby, Aretha Franking, Mahalia Jackson, Michael Jackson, Radiohead, Camille Saint-Saëns and Bill Withers (music), Gerard Bester, Gavin Krastin and Alan Parker (lighting and technical design), and Gwydion Beynon (text). It was part of the 30th iteration of Dance Umbrella, and performed on Thursday March 8 and Friday March 9 at the Wits Amphitheatre, Braamfontein. Visit or call 086 111 0005.