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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Honour conferred, honour deserved

French award Georgina Th, Greg M, Ismael M (11)

PINK bubbly: (from left), Dancer/choreographer Greg Maqoma, French Ambassador to South Africa His Excellency Christophe Farnaud and arts administrator and dance curator Georgina Thomson. Photograph by Geoff Sifrin.

ON TUESDAY, MAY 2, 2017, in acknowledgement of their career-long contributions to the dance fraternity in South Africa, artistic director of Dance Umbrella Georgina Thomson and artistic director and founder of Vuyani Dance Theatre, Gregory Maqoma, were awarded the Officier des Arts et des Lettres and the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres respectively by the Ambassador of France to South Africa, His Excellence Mr Christophe Farnaud, at a moving and intimate reception at the French Embassy in Pretoria.

“My relationship with IFAS has been amazing,” Thomson, who was born in the Netherlands and grew up in Lesotho and the Orange Free State, began speaking of how generously the French have opened doors for South African dance over the years. Significantly, she focused on how her former colleagues, including Mandie van der Spuy, Mannie Manim, Philip Stein and Nicola Danby had spurred her on to “fly” and to do what she didn’t think possible, as a dancer, as an arts administrator, as a curator of a festival of contemporary dance which took on an international sheen in her hands. “I worked with people who were generous, open, giving and supportive,” she concluded.

Ambassador Farnaud praised the work she has done over the works with levity and directness, referring to everything from the collaboration with brought Les Nuits, choreographed by Angelin Preljocaj to South Africa in 2014, “Dear Georgina,” he added. “Your distinctive career journey is heightened by your courage, your range of expertise and your travels around the world. You have worked with artists of all identities and backgrounds … you have used your artistic career to break boundaries and become the voice of those who were silenced.” Deeming Thomson an “exceptional example of determination and commitment”, he spoke of the bridges she has created – mostly against all funding odds – between local dancers and international opportunities.

Describing Gregory Maqoma’s contribution to dance as brave and brilliant as he spoke of the Soweto hostels context into which Maqoma was raised, Ambassador Farnaud commented on how Maqoma developed a sense of empathy in the plight of his fellow Soweto residents. Maqoma started dancing in the late 1980s, and under Sylvia Glasser developed into a professional dancer of Moving Into Dance Mophatong in 1991. He rose through the ranks of her company, eventually setting up a company of his own. Ambassador Farnaud commented on how deeply Maqoma’s work is respected and has developed, offering a trajectory of his career.

“You continue to play an important role in the development of dance in South Africa,” he added. “But more than a dancer/choreographer, you are also proven to be a smart entrepreneur. Indeed, Vuyani Dance Company is a strong example of a successful business model in the arts, which is not an easy feat nowadays.” Defining Maqoma as both “outstanding and unstoppable,” he added “You have become an inspiration to young artists not only in South Africa, but across the continent as well. You have changed the lives of young artists by giving them the wherewithal to spread their wings.”

Supported by his mother and aunt, Maqoma paid tribute to his late father. “Art is life,” he said, describing his passion for performing as a child as he gently describing the platitudinous questions posted to him by a CNN journalist. “Growing up in the context where I did, I learned more about the world, the complexities and the challenges,” he added, speaking of the melting pot that is contemporary Soweto. The odds he faced were terrifying and huge, for himself as well as his family. Legacy and the role of each individual in the industry underlined his talk, as well as the conscious decision of what one leaves behind.

Maqoma and Thomson joins the ranks of Johnny Clegg (1991), Robyn Orlin (2009) and William Kentridge (2013) in accepting this great award and immense honour, which was established in 1957 in recognition of significant contributions to the enrichment of the arts and literature in France and abroad.

  • What are the implications of these awards for South Africa, going forward, given the outcome of the French elections? Read this opinion piece.

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.

 

Dance should make you weep, says Sylvia

sassensylviaglasserpic1

DO IT LIKE THIS: Sylvia Glasser works with Fana Tshabalala in studio, 2010. Photograph by Geoff Sifrin.

With her floor-length purple dress riffling in the wind as she shimmied across President Street on the arm of choreographer/dancer Muzi Shili and others associated with Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MiD) , arguably South Africa’s most important contemporary dance company, Sylvia “MaGogo” Glasser, the institution’s founder, bade MiD – and the country – goodbye.  What a send off! What a way to leave that which you started 38 years ago, in good health, good humour and a position of authority.

For Glasser, it’s a bittersweet move, but one in which she can acknowledge touching so many dancers’ lives. Last month, Glasser spoke to My View about the rules she broke during the 38 years of MiD’s existence, and the ones she made. Also, the dance fraternity hosted a farewell for her, featuring comments from heavyweights in contemporary dance, including Shili, David Thanatelo April, Christos Daskalakos, Bev Elgie, Portia Mashigo and Kefiloe Morand.

Daskalalos, an architecture student in 1978 was enticed by an MiD poster for an improvisation workshop on Wits University campus: “I went. It was the start of a whole new life, for me. Sylvia had us doing things to tables and chairs that was never meant to be done to tables and chairs.

“Improvisation was how a lot of the works were choreographed by Sylvia and the dancers – Sylvia had the idea, the structure, the clear vision, and we would go into the studio and improvise and improvise. It was so creative. It is how a lot of the work at the Johannesburg Art Gallery was made,” he described performances in Johannesburg’s municipal gallery in 1980 and 1988.

Photographs of dancers in the JAG’s majestic space recalls performance art under choreographers like Robyn Orlin – a student of Glasser’s in her youth – decades later. Indeed, so much of the dance language developed and honed by Glasser was before its time, certainly in South Africa, where the notions of collaboration, performance art and impromptu gesture were important and new.

In 1981, MiD, just three years old, hosted South Africa’s first mixed-race work, at Wits’s Great Hall.

“At MiD, colour was never an issue,” Daskalakos said Glasser was not afraid to engage ugly South African metaphors, remembering this was high apartheid and everything she did with black and white dancers together was illegal.

In 1983, her work Not For Squares, ostensibly a light piece was performed to a gavotte by JS Bach. It also featured tyres. “Remember what tyres were used for in this country at the time?” Glasser mused, referring to “necklacing” in which people were burnt to death in a tyre.

Not only the tyre metaphor but also the use of Baroque music to support contemporary dance broke rules, which aligned Glasser’s dance philosophy with that of another dance legend, Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) who cocked a snook at balletic traditions in reinventing dance grammar. Effectively, Glasser created a dance grammar specific to South Africa – something which many of her dancers, who affectionately call her “MaGogo” (grandmother), have taken to the next level.

Not one to rest on laurels, Glasser was quick to disparage what she deemed too much praise. “I had a good education. I had a house. I was privileged. It was an obvious path for me to take.”

Elgie remembers the fledgling company, before 1987, used not only Glasser’s garage at her Victory Park home, to rehearse, but also the school hall at King David Victory Park and two scout halls. “In the one [scout hall], you went home and dug splinters out of your feet after each session. And the other was so cold we looked like oompa loompas, we had to wear so many clothes to keep warm.

“The piece that I collaborated in that still means the most to me is African Cassandra. I remember waking up in the morning after Wits lecturer and anti-apartheid activist David Webster [with whom Glasser had an important friendship] was assassinated [by apartheid security forces] and feeling what an awful thing had happened but feeling very proud of Sylvia for wanting to do this. It was a marvellous collaboration, which with pride we performed at the lecture in honour of David.”

Glasser was a mature student in 1989, having returned to Wits to read social anthropology, where  Webster was her professor. She recalled: “on the Friday, David had said he was organising one of the Wits cleaners to come to Braamfontein Recreation Centre to teach us Zulu dancing. That Monday, I saw in the news David had been killed. So this thing of Cassandra was David singing to the future, trying to change people.

“I also felt like a Cassandra in the dance community at the time.” She spoke of how her work was “scorned” locally, which affected her critical presence and fundraising profile. It’s ironic, that one of the highest profile award-winning companies, which saw Glasser knighted by the Dutch in 2014 struggled – and still struggles – for broader community support, in kind, in coverage and in funding.

Pragmatically, Glasser didn’t sidestep the importance of funding a nongovernmental organisation; an issue which became (and still is) a vital challenge for MiD. She needed to raise funds from 1984, in addition to the many competencies that steering MiD demanded of her.

Glasser vehemently disparaged the idea that “you need to do fluffy work for the public to patronise you. There is much talk, not only at MiD, but in dance generally, of a need for self-sufficiency. It’s become a buzz word. I’ve worked in many countries. I have learnt that any dance company that makes its audience cry, that has an ethos where people are more important than policies, does not cover its expenses through performance alone. Any organisation that brings in people, as MiD did, has a commodity to offer which overrides pressure for self-sustainability. Sure, you can commercialise a dance company. But it will lose its soul.

“Today I’m told I don’t understand business. How can you survive with no capital investment and [between 2001 and 2004] employ over 30 people? I didn’t do it by myself.”

But MiD has stood for a lot more than the trend of self-sustainability. It made careers. It made dreams feasible. Mashigo came into dance as a teenager. “I was in standard eight and there was a group of friends I had who were doing dance at a youth centre. One day I went with them, to watch. I had never seen a dancer’s body before. I had never before seen how physical fitness can train a black woman’s body. I started dancing. It was fun. It was easy. We were the ‘it’ girls.”

A year later, she auditioned with MiD. “I got in. And I got scared. For the first time, I realised how tiny I was – and I was competing now not only against township girls; I also had to speak English. The teachers were white. But the love of understanding exercises opened a new understanding of my body for me.”

Said April: “In Kimberley, where I grew up, there weren’t opportunities for dance training. In 1992, I heard an advert on Radio 5 for the community dance teachers training course auditions [run by MiD]. At that time, there was a programme on TV called Fame [based on the 1980 film]; everyone wanted to be like those dancers. I decided to be a ‘Leroy’ [played by the late Gene Anthony Ray] at MiD.”

Glasser concluded, smilingly: “I do have an ego,” she pooh-poohed peers’ claims that she was one of few professionals they worked with who didn’t come ego-first into a studio.

“I loved performing. Teaching is performing. It was the world to me.”

  • MiD is run by chief executive Nadia Virasamy, and artistic director Mark Hawkins.

Siva: Seven layers of dance perfection under Sidiya’s capable hand

Magnetic: Julia Burnham in Siva. Photograph courtesy cue.ru.ac.za

Magnetic: Julia Burnham in Siva. Photograph courtesy cue.ru.ac.za

You are led into the space by a series of lit thick short candles, evocative of the memorial-imbued candles of Jewish tradition. You encounter a woman being washed by another, in a ritual context that is achingly intimate even though it is cast in the thick of audience traffic. From this point, an emotional stillness is evoked; it is something that is carried through the duration of this exquisite piece, with respect and dignity, fire and heart.

As Siva, this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist work for dance choreographed by Luyanda Sidiya, unfolds, bringing together isiXhosa words, flames and some of the most extraordinary physical manoeuvring you might have ever seen, so something remarkable takes place. The work is premised on an understanding of godhead and religious ritual. The number seven features significantly in the work’s iconography.

It was conceived and birthed through the input and energy of both Moving Into Dance Mophatong under the leadership of Sylvia Glasser and Vuyani Dance Theatre, under the leadership of Gregory Maqoma, and here is the resolution of a dance language that melds African traditional aesthetic with contemporary dance rhetoric, taking the values of Glasser’s Afrofusion to a new level.

The work is enervating to look at: it sweeps you body and soul into its complex vortex as it stretches the notion of physical and anatomical possibility. The dancers become like magicians, drawing back to the roots of art making, as they segue with one another, in sequences that will make your head spin.

But more than all of this is the astonishing astuteness which with the work is created. It’s a large cast, comprising ten dancers and an ensemble of three musicians on stage. Like line work in a beautifully made drawing, each component of this work has his or her own place, there is no sense of messy collaboration, and yet, the whole is as complex and imposing as the intricate work of a grand orchestra.

And while each dancer operates with scalpel-like intensity, it is the performance and stage presence of Julia Burnham which sets the work on fire and captures its sense of magic, completely. Already quite a seasoned performer, demonstrating a great and brave repertoire for a diversity of approaches and a willingness to cock a snoot at boundaries, Burnham has, in this work, clearly come of age. She grabs your eye with a ferocity that doesn’t allow you to properly focus on the other dancers, even when she is at apparent rest. It has something to do with her immense sense of physical beauty and vulnerability, something to do with the utter skill in which she intertwines between her colleagues and lavishes within the movement and the sound.

And the sound is the other magic ingredient. Like the inimitable tenor and soprano saxophone of Norwegian Jan Garbarek, the music slithers in and out of the choreography, offering an understanding of dance and music and the magic in between that will haunt you, relentlessly.

The season for this magnificent piece was painfully short. It’s booked to travel to China in November. But between now and then, there are seasons pencilled in: seeing this piece should be a cultural imperative on anyone’s agenda. It will change your life.

  • Siva is choreographed and directed by Luyanda Sidiya. It features design by Xolisile Bongwana (musical direction); Gerard Bester (dramaturge); Oliver Hauser (lighting); Fried Wilsenach (sound) and Andrew Chandler (costumes). It is danced by Xolisile Bongwana, Julia Burnham, Roseline Keppler, Peter Lenso, Lulu Mlangeni, Phumlani Mndebele, Otto Nhlapo, Phumlani Nyanga, Nomasonto Radebe and Edwin Ramoba, and features performances by musicians Phosho Lebese, Tebogo Mokoena and Mpumi Nhlapo at the John Kani Theatre, Market Theatre complex, August 12-16. Watch this space for announcements of other seasons for this work.

Ngizwise: a flawless end to Dance Umbrella 2015

Photograph by Val Adamson

Photograph by Val Adamson

They stand in a stripped bare John Kani theatre, which allows your eye to rest on and explore the architecture that has been witness to so much drama over decades. Surrounded by more than 20 plastic crates, some apples and a couple of swaths of material, these four astonishing dancers make mockery of the notion of gravity as they boldly and succinctly explore masculinity in all its nuances.

Easily the finest piece on Dance Umbrella’s stages this year, Ngizwise (a word in isiZulu meaning “let me taste/help me listen”), choreographed by Moving Into Dance Mophatong stalwart, Sonia Radebe, and Canada-based Jennifer Dallas is a work that manifests sheer and astonishing dance polish in all the right places. While it doesn’t over-intellectualise, it celebrates the various contradictions with which the idea of masculinity is historically fraught – from faction fighting to confronting femininity, from being boys to being men. The dancers, Oscar Buthelezi, Teboho Letele, Sunnyboy Motau and Muzi Shili demonstrate a warm camaraderie rendering the work, which is constructed with word, gesture and sound, a celebratory event, easy yet complicated on the eye and the heart.

In an odd and ironic way, this dance work evokes the dynamism between four very different men, as was achieved in Pale Natives, a play staged in this theatre, under the direction of Bobby Heaney some months ago. Like that play, this danced piece probes what ultimately it is to be a man. Is it in the preening gesture of the beautiful musculature of a young, healthy male specimen? Is it in the manner in which a man can raise his voice or the platform of another, to attain a level of superiority? Is it in the brazen expression of bravado? Perhaps it’s in  how a man can wear a skirt and headdress and still not lose the masculine sheen. It’s all of this and much more.

Articulated in isiZulu, the work is not 100% accessible to everyone in the audience, but if you listen to the tone of the language and watch the sway of the gestures, you gather and hold what makes the stuff tick. The work is neither obvious nor crass, but in allowing the jubilant sense of humanity of each of the dancers to have voice, profound tribute is paid to the choreographing and training work accomplished over the years by Sylvia Glasser, founder of MIDM, in terms of how the work is structured and evolves with deliberation and precision.

It is backgrounded by music which evokes the same piano chords being struck with vehemence and resonance, repetitively, hauntingly, not unlike a musical phrase central to Stanley Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut (1999). While this could jar the work, it doesn’t, as it offers a serious counterfoil to the movements, allowing word, movement and sound to overlap and interplay with wit and charisma.

Further to that, the use of lighting brings magic into the mix. This is an astute and complete piece of dance, in which Radebe  and Dallas unequivocally demonstrates their developed and convincing sense of authority as choreographers: it is the kind of work which sees Radebe stand out as a professional in the South African discipline, who understands and relishes the poetry and rhythm of collaboration. And the kind of work which restores hope in the institution of Dance Umbrella.

  • Ngizwise is choreographed and conceived by Jennifer Dallas and Sonia Radebe in collaboration with the performers, Oscar Buthelezi, Teboho Letele, Sunnyboy Motau and Muzi Shili. It features design by Wilhelm Disbergen (lighting), Veronica Sham (costumes) and Teboho Letele (music) and performed at the John Kani Theatre, Market Theatre complex, on March 14 and 15.