Lorca, butchered

Bloodwedding

BRIDE on a plinth: The sweetheart of one man, the passion of another, Carla Classen plays the central protagonist in Bloodwedding

BY ALL ACCOUNTS, the idea of Blood Wedding by Lorca conjures up a whole rich and gruesome terrain of achingly beautiful poetry, difficult emotional quandaries and an unrelenting tale of flowers and moons, sacrifice and tradition. It’s not clear why the direction of this production, Raissa Brighi chose to edit Lorca, but more so, why she chose not to hone her cast’s skills in articulation more tightly.

While Brighi’s introduction of African songs and traditional approaches to the idea of a wedding enhances the work, deepening it and giving it a rich local context, it is the cropping and changing in the work’s language which causes it to stutter and stumble – it’s not clear why more contemporary jargon have been at times inserted into the text: this mars the flow of language and forces the Lorca fluidity of form to lose shape and become humdrum, at times even comical.

Featuring some achingly beautiful moments, in the lighting and choreographic input into the work, this Bloodwedding is a very shouty affair with performers too lacking in the physical and contextual gravitas of the roles they embody. The mother of the groom, a fiery and fierce woman in the original text, who has lost her husband and her son, is played by Rachel Swanepoel, and while she works very hard at embracing the text and the gut-wrenching emotion, you can’t help but see her as a young girl. Has it to do with the physical presence of the performer and her body language? Either way, this young performer seems under-directed. Similarly with the father of the bride, Henri Strauss.

As the dialogue of the piece begins, your heart sinks: the piece begins with a fine and magnificently danced overture, one so powerful that you might have felt yourself  prepared to be watching a dance piece with no dialogue and a developed engagement with this text of family feuds, class issues and vendetta, through gesture and form. But no: the characters with their unmodulated voices maul the simple magnificence of the original.

Further to all of that, there are few things as damaging as a cellulitic bum cheek exposed erroneously in a dance move. The female dancers have their dignity inadequately taken care of in this work, which sees them wearing revealing underwear which detracts very emphatically from the main issue at hand. It is issues such as this that should have been more carefully addressed.

But as the piece unfolds, with the sensitive criss-crossing of lights that supersede nebulous and unfocused graphics across the space, something gem-like is still evident. There’s a choreographed fight sequence when the two husbands come head to head that will grab your attention and your emotions, and there’s an inspired use of the venue’s red brick walls that lend the piece a lusty bloody sense of reality. Not to forget an utterly superb an understanding of the malevolent and playful presence of the moon on a scooter that also redeems much.

The question needs to be asked, however, regarding the professional levels of this work. Yes, it was performed in the Market Theatre’s main theatre, which makes you believe that this is up there with everything else that has graced this stage, in terms of professionality. But it is acknowledged as having been produced by the Drama Department of the University of Pretoria. But what does this mean? The cast members and creative team are listed on the programme without reference to what year of study they are in, assuming of course, that they are students. Without such context, you must assume that they are professional. But, by the end of the work, you feel that this cannot possibly be the case.

  • Bloodwedding is written Federico García Lorca and adapted for this production by its director, Raissa Brighi with the assistance of Alice Pernè It features creative input by Eugene Mashiane (choreography), Baily Snyman (lighting), Jacinda Barker, Heleen van Tonder and Robin Burke (audio visual). It was performed by Carla Classen, Cassius Davids, MacMillan Mabaleka, Susan Nkata, Palesa Olifant, Henri Strauss, Rachel Swanepoel and Joffe Tsebe, at the John Kani Theatre, Market Theatre complex in Newtown until June 11. It will perform at Graeme College, during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown on July 2 and 3. Visit www.nationalartsfestival.co.za
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Even the shadows get to trip the light fantastic, here

Impact1

MAN in a frock: Muzi Shili captures the verve in Hinkel’s Bolero. Photograph by Suzy Bernstein

CONTEMPORARY DANCE HAS a reputation for being self-indulgent, inaccessible and boring. Very occasionally however, you do get a real opportunity to see something extraordinary. And that occasion is often so rare, in a season so brief that you have to act quickly. Impact 1 is exactly what dance should be: it’s a shortish evening comprising three works that will make you sit up and focus, and leave you feeling rewarded.

Several years ago, showcases of this nature were de rigueur for several of South Africa’s dance companies. But the trend waned. Hopefully Impact 1 and 2 will engender a new understanding of contemporary dance outside of the traditionally February timeframe of Dance Umbrella.

First up is José Agudo’s beautiful contemplative piece, A Thousand Shepherds, danced by members of Cape Dance Company. This essay in the movement of shifting sands, fire and nomads is evocatively supported by Vincenzo Lamagno’s music and caressed into full life by Wilhelm Disbergen’s magical use of light. There are moments in this work when you feel as though the dancers are able to become submerged in the floor, or defy gravity entirely and rise from it. And where you lose your sense of context entirely and feel as though it’s just you watching these mesmerising performers. Like dervishes, they work together and apart, offering glorious synchronisation, mysteries, politics and history as they immerse themselves in their floor-length cowled robes, genuflect and move as though mercury or electricity was sprinkled through their limbs.

Curiously, the second piece, Belinda Nusser’s Phase 5 Confronted bears a number of similarities, in structure, movement and ethos with the Agudo work. Danced by members of Tshwane Dance Theatre, with the addition of Nathan Bartman and Ipeleng Merafe from CDC, this piece is supported by music by Amon Tobin Murcof and Massive Attack, which feels like a concatenation of rough pebbles, ball-bearings and marbles running down your spine and through your brain. Sometimes this sound lends you a delicious feeling of coolness and at others, it jars. The dance itself involves sophisticated movements, but on the whole, it has an aura that is cold and intense and there are moments when the ethos of the piece teeters over into something that feels like an exercise routine rather than a dance work.

The final work on Impact 1 is an adaptation by Alfred Hinkel, the founder of Jazzart, of his iconic 1976 Bolero, which is danced to the eponymous work by Maurice Ravel, a jazzy balletic piece which first saw light of day nearly 90 years ago. This delicious celebration of dance brings in men in skirts, women flaunting their curves and playfulness, maturity and a sense of authority that makes you remember why Moving Into Dance Mophatong has the reputation and history it does. Conjoined with Disbergen’s  masterful lighting, even the shadows of these performers trip the light fantastic. Dancers such as Muzi Shili, Sunnyboy Motau and Eugene Mashiane bask and make love with the music, the movement, the very business of being alive in the world, melding very African dance gestures such as gumboot, with the European shimmer and beat of Ravel, that will leave you buoyant and singing bars of the music all the way home.

What a joy it is to be able to watch contemporary local dance in the beautiful, well designed and dignified premises of the Mandela. Not only is it time for contemporary dance to be showcased more aggressively in curated shows of this nature, but it’s time for the Joburg theatre to become a proud and exclusive venue of local talent.

  • Impact 1 performs at the The Mandela, Joburg Theatre complex in Braamfontein, until August 21. It comprises the following pieces
    • A Thousand Shepherds choreographed by José Agudo and featuring music by Vincenzo Lamagna, lighting by Wilhelm Disbergen and costumes by Kimie Nakano. It is performed by the Cape Dance Company under the artistic direction of Debbie Turner: Ciara Baldwin, Nathan Bartman, Lwando Dutyulwa, Carmen Lotz, Odwa Makanda, Ipeleng Merafe, Thamsanqa Njoko, Mthuthuzeli November, Louisa Talbot, Gemma Trehearn, Lee van der Merwe and Marlin Zoutman;
    • Phase 5 Confronted choreographed by Belinda Nusser, featuring music by Amon Tobin Murcof and Massive Attack and lighting and costumes by Belinda Nusser, assisted by Gwendolyn Gourley-Botha. It is performed by members of Tshwane Dance Theatre, under the artistic management of Liyabuya Gongo and Laura Cameron: Nathan Bartman (by permission of CDC), Laura Cameron, Liyabuya Gongo, Thabiso Khoma, Ipeleng Merafe (by permission of CDC) and Kyle Rossouw;
    • And Bolero choreographed by Alfred Hinkel, featuring music by Maurice Ravel, lighting by Wilhelm Disbergen and costumes by Veronica Sham, Wilhelm Disbergen and Avril Bennet is performed by members of Moving Into Dance Mophatong under the artistic directorship of Mark Hawkins: Oscar Buthelezi Teboho Gilbert Letele, Eugene Mashiane, Thabang Mdlalose, Mandla Sunnyboy Motau Ntuli, Sussera Olyn, Asanda Saru Rudah, Macaleni Muzi Shili and Thenjiwe Soxokoshe.
  • Impact 2, comprising works by members of TDT and MIDM, runs from August 24-26 at the Fringe Theatre, Joburg Theatre complex, Braamfontein. http://www.joburgtheatre.com/impact-no-2/

Dance to make you proudly South African

Feathers

REACHING for forever: Eugene Mashiane, Muzi Shili, Oscar Buthelezi and Tegobo Gilbert Letele in Fight, Flight, Feathers, F***ers, choreographed by Rachel Erdos and Sunnyboy Motau. Photograph by Mujahid Safodien. Courtesy of Gettyimages.

HEADLINED BY INTERNATIONALLY celebrated works, the new solo pieces on Wits 969’s mixed dance bill were overshadowed, but it was fantastic to see Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MIDM) on the Wits festival’s agenda and platform. The programme comprised Oscar Buthelezi’s celebrated Road, a two-hander with Muzi Shili, which recently won the coveted Kurt Jooss award for choreography in Germany; Fight, Flight Feathers, F***ers, a piece choreographed by Israel-based Rachel Erdos with Sunnyboy Motau; and two solo works – by Eugene Mashiane and Motau respectively.

Armed with an outrageously fine pair of red harem pants, and a wooden box, Mashiane presented Everlast which opened the evening with muscular pizzazz. It’s a work about death, handled with an elegant line and beautiful movement.

But as a self-standing piece, it lacks the kind of narrative gravitas and depth of focus audiences were privileged to see, and keenly anticipating, in Road. Here, clothed in brown shorts, Buthelezi and Shili evoke the wide brutality of harsh landscapes and the blistering sense of loneliness that a new path in life must entail. The choreography is difficult yet intimate: there’s an engaging understanding of how a dancer – or a man – must rely on his brother, his friend – to carry the weight of his loneliness. It’s a work which easily became the darling of the Kurt Jooss awards, and the photographers who documented it, and it’s not difficult to understand why.

The piece is clean of unnecessary frills in its set, costumes and presentation. The choreography is polished and offers you hairpin bends in its own sequences and sense of inevitability that leaves you sitting on the edge of your chair, knuckles white. When it’s done, you in the audience are breathless and wish to call for more, but your voice too is parched from the thrill of the spectacle.

Third in the programme was a solo work by Motau called My Black is Black, which had its centre and sense of integrity scuppered by the post-standing-ovation delight of the audience after Road. This bruised its ability to lend the piece its own place in the spotlight and the focus it warranted. It’s a tale of a man and his jacket, but similar to Mashiane’s piece, the work feels lacking in the kind of narrative development you might have seen in Motau’s other choreographed works.One of which is the extraordinary work Fight, Flight, Feathers, F***ers, a contemplation of masculinity, which Motau choreographed with Erdos. [See my review here and an interview with Erdos and Motau here].

The work, some time after Dance Umbrella 2014 when it debuted, still boasts the same inimitable poetry and astonishing coordination, as well as a narrative flow that confronts the dynamics of in-ness and bullying. It’s a magnificent piece which again moves you to the very edge of the chair on which you sit, as you let your eyes flow between dancers’ bodies and watch how they create a texture with their limbs, a beast with four heads, a playful fight dynamic and how they dance, proverbially with a devil of fire. It’s breathtaking.

Putting dance on this kind of festival platform is particularly valuable not only for Wits 969’s ethos, but for the dance itself. While works like Road and Fight, Flight…  embody dance principles which derive from the basic premises of Sylvia Glasser’s Moving Into Dance which she started in the 1970s, they also push them a couple of steps further, articulating a new physical language, and embracing an understanding of what constitutes classic MIDM work in the teens of the 21st century.

  • “Feathers” presented by Moving into Dance Mophatong was directed by Mark Hawkins. It was a part of the Wits 969 festival at the Wits University Theatre complex which ended on July 24, and featured design by Wilhelm Disbergen (lighting). It comprised the following pieces:
    • Everlast choreographed and performed by Eugene Mashiane with music compilation by Olafur Arnolds;
    • Road choreographed by Oscar Buthelezi and performed by Buthelezi and Muzi Shili with music compilation by Teboho Gilbert Letele;
    • My Black is Black choreographed, performed and musically compiled by Sunnyboy Mandla Motau; and
    • Fight, Flight, Feathers, F***ers choreographed by Rachel Erdos and Sunnyboy Motau, featuring costumes by Kyle Rossouw and music by Tebogo Gilbert Letele and performed by Oscar Buthelezi, Tebogo Gilbert Letele, Eugene Mashiane and Muzi Shili.

 

Johannesburg: a dancework pock-marked by rebellion and verve

R&J

SANGOMAS IN SEQUENCE: A still from Jessica Nupen and Sunnyboy Motau’s Rebellion & Johannesburg. Photograph courtesy Tana Hall.

A YOUNG MAN dances emotionally and with great muscularity with a giant black plastic cloud in a moment framed with footage of the inside of Ponte Tower in Berea, Johannesburg. He is physically threatened, dominated out of his context by several dancers wielding buckets – or using a bucket as a pedestal prompted into movement by the force of friction and gravity. And this quintessential play with life, death and utter fantasy encapsulates the fascinating and messy heart of Rebellion & Johannesburg, the work which opened Dance Umbrella 2016.

An exuberant piece from start to finish, R&J seems like a politically correct opener for this, the 28th Dance Umbrella. Featuring dancers from Moving Into Dance Mophatong and choreographed by local choreographer Jessica Nupen who boasts South African, British and German choreographic credentials and dance experience, it is a work which ticks all the boxes in terms of sating the sponsors, filling the auditorium and setting the festival’s buzz afire.

Aside from all the superlatives uttered in voice and gesture and the dance sequences designed to make you smile in their satisfying whirligig rhythms and collective sequencing, the work is an engagement with the messy exuberance of the city of Johannesburg. Like Sunnyboy Motau’s astonishing piece In my End is my Beginning, R&J is a deliciously inchoate reflection of a society, bringing together all the elements from corruption amongst the populace to the ever presence of death and love, and the way they interfold.

Very loosely based on the tale of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the work sees some novel eccentricities in a set of hula hoops and hangers, with a mirror ball and a series of street headlines. It features some truly beautiful video work as a backdrop, and there are echoes between the live dancers and the video sequencing which is both engaging and satisfying.

Blending township jive with a whole range of dance quotes, the piece evokes Robyn Orlin’s Beauty, but doesn’t have the aggressive and confrontational framework that lent it its edge. It also suffers from thinking that is at times so enthusiastic that the proverbial baby is lost with the bathwater: almost everything fallS into the piece’s focus, from members of the Economic Freedom Front upsetting Parliament’s proceedings, to a taxi narrative, threaded through with fairly lame jokes about corruption on the streets of the city. Shakespeare references pale into invisibility. Rebellion & Johannesburg is a work which clearly has gone through all the motions – from its title to its actuality, it has clearly been brainstormed carefully with the cast and choreographers, but what it lacks is cohesive vision.

The casualty is at times the focus of the piece, and at other times, its structure. All in all, it feels too long. But everything is forgiven when you look at how extraordinary the individual dancers are. These young men and women can render a simple two-step, a master gesture, with their agility, wit and charisma. Without question the dancers of MIDM may well redefine Dance Umbrella this year.

  • Rebellion & Johannesburg is conceptualised and choreographed by Jessica Nupen with assistance from Sunnyboy Motau and it features design by Spoek Mathambo (music composition), Anmari Honiball (costumes and set), Ed Blignaut (film projection), Lars Rubarth and Felix Striegler (sound). It is performed by Oscar Buthelezi, Tebogo Gilbert Letle, Eugene Mashiane, Thabang Mdlalose, Sunnyboy Motau, Asanda Ruda, Muzi Shili, and Thenjiwe Soxokoshe. It performs at the UJ Theatre in Auckland Park, until February 26, as part of Dance Umbrella 2016. Visit www.danceforumsouthafrica.co.za
  • See my review of In My End is My Beginning here

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.