ADD A little more heat to this midsummer with fire troupe The Psychedelic Theatre’s Dans van die Vlamme (Dance of the Flames) at the Picnic Concert Series at the Taalmonument in Paarl on Friday and Sunday.
Loosely based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dance of the Flames explores the blending of the veil between our world and another as humans and fairies interact, explains director Sarah Iles. The inspiration stemmed from the original performance date being booked for December 21, midsummer night.
The Psychedelic Theatre had been performing at corporate gigs for the past three years. When Iles’s daughter got involved earlier this year, it wasn’t long before she, herself a dance teacher, was roped into giving them cues and helping out with the technical side of performances. She has enjoyed working with founding member Marvin Lee-Beukes and the rest of the team.
“It’s been a very organic evolution of skills, the process has been very uncontrived,” she says, adding how she effortlessly slipped into the role of artistic director.
Then in August they approached her to direct their next project, something a little more ambitious than they were used to staging.
“They wanted to do something different, a show that was more narrative than before.” And so Dance of the Flames was born.
“The audience can expect to be really quite delighted visually and aurally. The soundscape is an interesting mix of genres and time periods.” She has combined the likes of Mendelssohn with earthy sounds of didgeridoos.
“There’s an element of antiquity and Shakespearean resonance as well as all the things you think about when you think about fire. It’s really groovy, up-tempo, state-of-the-art music. It’s a blend of all those things. It’s quite stunning and sumptuous.”
Add to the music a beautiful setting, elaborate costumes and whirling fire and she’s proud of what they have produced. “It’s quite a wide range of stimuli. The audience won’t forget about it. There’s really nothing like it. It’s crossing boundaries and bringing together elements that aren’t normally together.”
The process of putting the show together has been challenging and they have had a few curve balls to deal with along the way, including having to replace one of the cast members at the last minute. Iles adds that the medium of fire itself brings its own unique challenges.
“Usually with theatre and dance you’re working with a closed set of variables within a closed space which you can map out.
“It’s usually a matter of timing and counts to make sure everything is done in unison and the props are really predictable. Fire is not. A slight breeze changes the way it burns.”
Weather is one of the most vital variables, but the action also unfolds on a hill in the dark and so the performers have limited visibility.
Despite the odd “wobble”, Iles enthuses that the cast is doing brilliantly and that they have adapted well to the space. Performances have to be precise for the fire to burn at optimum length, so each staging has to be managed individually and carefully. This is even more vital when two dancers are working together, because they cannot use their hands.
“You have toys in the way, with fire on them. It’s quite a challenge to choreograph,” she says, mentioning how two of the cast sustained minor burns on their hands during a dress rehearsal.
The Psychedelic Theatre is hoping to take the show to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown next year and there has also been talk of a trip to the US.