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.

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.