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.

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.

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.

And now, for something completely manly

Men
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 danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.

Cacophony of love for Hillbrow

Hillbrowification
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 www.danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.
   

 

The magnificence of Albert

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 danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.

To brave the elements, unapologetically

Elements
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 danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.

You can lean on me

GerardAlan
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 danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.

Where’ve all the photo budgets gone?

no-camera-allowed-sign-largethumb-367x260
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.