Dance FP The new dance

The new dance

Dance at this year’s Fest might stretch your expectation parameters uncomfortably; given the wide array of good possibility on festival dance stages, from Main to Arena to Fringe, you’re guaranteed not to be bored. This is partly due to an  inspired move by the Standard Bank Young Artist Award (SBYA) committee to include a previously ignored genre – performance art – for the first time.

But what is it? Glancing back through art history, back to the Italian Futurists before World War I, it’s about artists so excited about what they were doing they believed it shouldn’t be confined to static canvases, and they allowed – or encouraged – it to leap from their hearts directly into the shocked audience’s faces. Fittingly, the genre  is best known for protest.

Performer as artist
The performer is an artist and not someone following a sequence of steps, and armed with this intellectual edge performance art bleeds into contemporary dance with abundance.

Steven Cohen, a festival talking point last year, in an  apartheid ruled South Africa, began to cock a snook at the establishment before it was fashionable (or legal) to do so. Since 1989, his work shifted paradigmatically into his body, retaining its sense of antagonistic surprise toward the homophobic, racist world around him.

He’s not in Grahamstown this year, but among those who are influenced by his work ethic and aesthetic philosophies are Alan Parker and Gavin Krastin. Performance art also has a reputation for being esoteric (read: deathly boring). Being in the audience of this discipline should not leave you unscathed emotionally and care is advised with festival choices.

Enter Jill Richards and Marcus Wyatt in Untitled #310. Relentlessly pushing boundaries, these  composers won’t allow complacency as they grapple with the experimental sound art of Spanish composer Francisco López.

Yes, it’s not dance-related, but works of this nature overflow and cross pollinate electrically between related genres.

Performance art on SBYA stages means there will be a healthy flow of categories; it’s something you can also look for in the city’s streets, over the next ten days. With Anthea Moys, SBYA’s performance art winner, you’ll have your complacency not only rocked, but broken.

Grahamstown, fraught as it is with contradiction and subversion, lends itself to a terrifying look at its underbelly. Whatever she does, in lone combat against a soccer team, a chess team or a squadron  of fierce ballroom dancers, Moys will touch you in a way you won’t forget, leaving you remembering this year’s Fest as context. Or as catalyst.

Come armed with an open mind for the work of hot young choreographer, Nadine Joseph, currently interning with Forgotten Angle Theatre Company.

Her for.GIVE.n deals with abuse, manifesting that guttural rawness we used to see in dance in the 1980s. There’s magnificent potent rage in her dance vocabulary, which sets fire to the stage.

Young Artists on show
Also shaping his dance vocabulary with equanimity is Fana Tshabalala, this year’s SBYA for dance. Judging by the legacy of immensely fine work this choreographer is capable of, the exploration of ritual in Indumba promises to be sophisticated and tantalising.

In addition, on the Main is a ‘usual suspect’ in dance.

Greg Maqoma has paid his industry fees and his work is a standard internationally. He brings Exit/Exist, a contemplation of how personal history and global history intersect. He’s also present in Gravity, a compilation by the Northern Dance Project of four original new works, which also features the work of Adele Blank and Anthea Turck.

Another fine young choreographer who has Moving Into Dance Mophatong in his history and blood is stalwart, Luyanda Sidiya. He’s co-choreographed Kgosi Kgolo/Hayani, with Andrew Kola, a work which
promises homecoming narratives.

Biko’s Quest should also be on your viewing list. It’s by Jazz art Dance Theatre, a company inspired in the early 1990s by Alfred Hinkel, which never disappoints in its supremely exciting and intelligent choreography.

Contemporary performance focus
Constructing fresh performance history, Alan Parker and Gavin Krastin step, as self-styled dance guerillas, into the thorny, poetic footprints of Steven Cohen.

Their surprisingly beautiful Cellardoor is on the Fringe; Rough Musick is on the Main. Parker also performs in Plastic. Kieron Jina is a vastly talented young performer on contemporary dance stages; in collaboration with Joni Barnard and Kyle de Boer, he presents Appetite.

Nicola Haskins – a product of FATC and a dancer incapable of being boring – has choreographed two works on the University of Pretoria Theatre Company: “As Night Falls” and “Chasing”, an essay about Helen Martens of Nieu Bethesda and Owl House fame, which won a 2011 Standard Bank Ovation Award, and the latter an engagement with the life of Afrikaans poet Ingrid Jonker.

The Swiss bring us Yann Marussich, bathing in broken glass and exploring his body inside and out, for those with the stomach and patience to watch. There are many new names on the Fringe, and even a work by currently jailed prisoners. To do it justice, dance and performance arts nature must be approached with an open heart: Celebrate the bravery enabling spectacle, narrative and dance to touch you where it might.

If contemporary performance with its in-house jokes and tendency to navel-gaze is not your thing, the monster of the festival is big enough to embrace dance for all stripes, including the Johannesburg Youth Ballet’s Hansel and Gretel, a new work choreographed by Mark Hawkins. It features  improvised sets and many young enthusiastic dancers.

Further, five shows boast pantsula on their menu and there is more focus on traditional Xhosa dance. There’s one tragic dance omission: La Rosa dance company, which flamenco performer extraordinaire, Carolyn Holden, created and gave blood and tears to develop over 20 years.

In a ghastly turn of fate, Holden died from an aneurysm in April this year. Her absence leaves a big hole in festival dynamics. Dancers  across the Fest board are rethinking themselves. This year they’re capitalising on their talents, resulting in a curious mix of brain and brawn.

Fana Tshabalala and Thabo Rapoo perform in the 2009 production Ken Arok- Cursed Sword. (Photo: CUEPIX/ Karen Crouch).


Robyn Sassen

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