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.

Where’ve all the photo budgets gone?


NO pic, no crit.

HERE’S THE SCENARIO. There’s a festival of theatre happening in a city. Many productions to see. Some new, some tested. There’s nothing quite like a platform for new theatre ideas to flex their proverbial wings and try out their thinking on a new audience. There’s also nothing quite like a production which enjoys a strong and positive critical response. Hell, even negative critical response, should be of value. But what has happened to the cherished position of the arts photographer? Nary to be felt on opening nights any longer is that frisson of self-importance that the arts photographer exudes when she or he alone is the only person who can legitimately go click-click throughout a show.

A festival of theatre is happening in a venue. The publicist sends mugshots of the practitioners to the media at large. There are no production photographs. Is it not within the festival organiser’s priorities to budget for a festival photographer? And if this is the case, should a critique be published online without the courtesy of a picture of the production? Is that not like a description of a product that you’re trying to market with words alone? Should a review be premised with the image constructed for the programme? Would anyone read a review that has no illustration? Methinks perhaps not.

It’s similar to the old philosophical chestnut: if a tree falls in a forest, and there is no one to hear it, does it make a noise? If a show is marketed with no production pics, does anyone in the industry or in potential audiences give a flying fig about it, or will they read further than the pictureless state?

A review in the strictest sense is not a piece of fluffy marketing, which should be allowed to easily slip under the mantle of marketing material, with the logo headlining it. A review in the strictest sense should be the handle the public can access – if they respect the reviewer’s opinion enough. And it should be able to stand its ground with an image referencing the show under scrutiny.

Photography came into common technological parlance some 120 years ago. The camera, its accompanying technology and the guy pressing the button became an event and a performance in its own right, and the novelty of being photographed in early modernism were simply remarkable.

Time passed and the technology continued to grow and proliferate. Photography became a revered medium in its own right, and the professional photographer was able to teeter viably between being a member of the media and an artist. He or she earned respect, credibility; hosted exhibitions and had work published in glossy gorgeous books.

The arts photographer became a specialisation all of its own, and simply extraordinary images became the domain of South African photographers of the ilk of Suzy Bernstein, John Hogg, John Hodgkiss, Ruphin Coudyzer, Dex Goodman, to name but a few. It was a specialisation that enabled the creative juices and skills of dancers, performers and photographers to be intertwined, the one enhancing the other.

And then, things started dwindling. The technology became so sophisticated that it crept into everyone’s cell phone as an automatic bit of extra software. And hey, presto! The whole world, no matter how inarticulate or visually ordinary they are, can be a photographer. Social media is like a cancer fraught with appalling photographs of everything from twee kitties to meals about to be eaten, but production pictures? Not a sausage. Is this something that young performers don’t understand in their education or a box that goes unticked by festival organisers for monetary reasons? The mystery remains.

In the past several months, I have been subject to sitting through productions that clearly do not believe it to be of sufficient importance to include professional designers — be they sound engineers, costumiers or production designers – on their production credits. I have seen productions that feel they can strip music down to its bare necessities and toss out a couple of chords played by three instruments, pretending to be a full orchestra. I have seen people who have attempted to be the performer, the producer, the director and the marketer of their own work. And now, we see production picture-less shows expecting reviews. What happens next? Will these performers/directors/producers also become their own critics?

Of course, it’s all about money. But are we cutting our proverbial noses off and making ourselves less functional and scarily ugly in the process, by not respecting the work of the professionals who support the theatre industry? My View will regrettably not be hosting reviews of shows that do not offer production pics.