Dance at this year’s Festival seemed exceptionally introspective: from taking a long, refreshing drink of itself, to explorations of contemporary South African identities in all their guises, it has been one helluva ride.
Julia Burnham performs in this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist winner for dance, Luyanda Sidiya’s (director and choreographer) production, Siva (Seven), at Alec Mullins venue in Grahamstown on 7 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Siva is performed by the Vuyani Dance Theatre. (Photo: CUEPIX/Niamh Walsh-Vorster)
Audiences were exceptionally responsive, laughing, swaying, humming, and showering dancers with appreciative standing ovations. This was especially true for the dynamic African dance presented by Vuyani Dance Theatre and Moving into Dance Mophatong (MIDI).
Vuyani’s Siva (seven) stood out in every way: music, dance, scenery, costumes, and lighting. Choreographed by this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance, Luyanda Sidiya, it took the best of Afro-jazz music and dance and combined it with the full repertoire of contemporary dance moves to cast a spell over its audience. It was an exquisite banquet for all the senses, representing a man’s search for connection, in a world where he is all too often alone.
It was clear from the moment I arrived at the venue that Sidiya was a Festival favourite. The audience was abuzz with excitement. Perhaps they had seen his piece Umnikelo in 2012, which was part of the double bill Mayhem that won a silver Ovation Award, or perhaps they know him from elsewhere. Sidiya has travelled extensively around the world as a dancer, teacher, and choreographer, garnering numerous awards and appreciate reviews.
Sidiya’s love for dance started as a schoolboy and led him to study at the Dance Factory in Johannesburg before beginning formal training at MIDI, where he later taught Afro-fusion dance. He is currently artistic director at Vuyani.
MIDI’s Man Longing was a harrowing dive into the dark underworld of human trafficking, presented on a double bill. Choreographed by Sunnyboy Mandla Motau, it showcases the distinctive style of contemporary, African, and hip hop at which this company excels. Its dynamic portrayal of the ruination of innocence through drugs, sex, and violence brought me to tears.
But it was the other side of the double bill that enchanted the audience. The easier Ngizwise, choreographed by Sonia Thandazile Radebe from Johannesburg and Jennifer Dallas of Toronto, took a light-hearted look at where we’re at as a nation. Through the portrayal of intimate apartheid stories, told from the viewpoint of a younger generation, it kept the audience howling with laughter and slapping their legs.
Nomcebisi Moyikwa’s Waltz, an Ovation Award-winning physical theatre piece on the Fringe, used the device of a father teaching his son that quintessentially European dance form as a metaphor for South Africans reclaiming their space. The use of the waltz, a provocative form that broke from the tradition of the group dance and allowed men and women to touch, was a stroke of genius as it gave the dancers a broad spectrum of ways to break free and show their individuality.
Four pieces have gone down the rabbit hole and into the world of Vaslav Nijinsky, showing that rich choreography and iconic dance moves can inspire relevant, contemporary choreography. Cape Town City Ballet’s Le Sacre, based on Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring, was an unforgettable exploration of selfdestruction. It possessed great power and beauty. The other piece on the double bill was less well received. Choreographed by John Neumeier, Spring and Fall was an extraordinary merger of the Russian’s sharp, angular movements with lyrical modern ballet.
Underground Dance Theatre brought back Bok, which manages to make Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun relevant to South Africa today in a piece that, literally, combines man, animal, and ritual. It opens with the male dancers, clad in veldskoen, day-glo leopard print, and khaki shorts. Soon they pull each other’s pants down. It’s not my scene, but I can certainly see its relevance as the dancers brilliantly wove desire with shame.
As the piece transitioned to the second part, Henk Opperman created an unforgettable image as he transformed from man to Faun with a mere ripple of his shoulder muscles. The dance to Debussy’s classic music was achingly beautiful and haunting. The enactment of ritual combining a beaded headdress with an Egyptian motive was less obviously relevant, but it was stunning and evoked Nijinsky.
Zimbabwe’s Tumbuka Contemporary Dance Group presented Portrait of Myself as My Father, choreographed by Zimbabwean Nora Chipaumire. It was a delightfully exuberant dance that had us jiving in our seats. Chipaumire, who is based in New York, says that research for her rendition of the iconic Rite of Spring started the journey that became Portrait, her first work created in her homeland.
Mode, in the double bill LoveZero, was a light, refreshing picture that appealed to everyone from serious dancers to those who simply love to watch bodies in motion. The piece, choreographed by Thalia Laric and Steven van Wyk, looked at the history of social dance, which when you think about, is people moving about without going anywhere. The dancers enacted everything from formal court dance to sensual salsa alongside magnificent singer Robin Botha.
The Dog Days are Over is like a drinking game for dancers. Stamina and the ability to keep a clear head are crucial. For 70 minutes the eight performers jump, occasionally adding in minimal sequences. The motivation for the piece by Jan Martens for the Flemish-Dutch House Deburen was a quote by an American photographer about how masks fall when we jump. The audience sat mesmerised by the rhythms tapped out by the 16 feet.
World look out: African dance is coming, and it’s going to take over.
Cue contributing editor
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