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The two women are utterly engrossed in the performance, mesmerised. The two men, not so much.
While one man fidgets, the other slumps in on himself a little bit. He sneaks a look at his watch as the score picks up a hint of menace.
A slight beat creeps into the soundscape as the woman, dressed in green (the actual performer) starts to move faster. She is lying flat on her back, moving ever so slightly and ever so slowly.
The first four people are audience members watching Mika Vaino dance to Cindy Acker’s Lanx and later on in the performance, Obtus.
Now the dancer is moving faster, rolling across the floor, deliberately creating lines and drawing geometric shapes with her body – moving within the confines of specific shapes.
She carefully and deliberately contorts her body, mostly while flat, or parallel to the ground. Arms are angled just so, hips are squared, legs held straight.
Now she interweaves her fingers, creating a sinuous Moebius strip, forming interminable snake-like movements.
The four audience members don’t make it back for the second half, but they should have, because now we get to the nitty-gritty of it all.
Moving slowly from one side of the stage, lit by a strip of fluorescent bulbs on the ground, the dancer displays an incredible level of control in Obtus.
This is a performance on the micro level, the exquisite torture of the minutiae.
There is something almost ritual or ceremonial about the deliberate movements, and after the performance, during a Q&A, the choreographer explains her obsession with the root of movement.
Acker is a French choreographer, in SA as part of the French/South Africa Season. This week she travels to Cape Town for the Gipca Great Texts/Big Questions series, to present a performance-lecture and film screening.
Acker explained that while exploring classical formations in ballet, she became absorbed in the profoundness of the core of movement and wanted to go as far as possible inside the body: “To have as big as possible a vision of the small things.”
While researching what exactly was the root and important, she stripped everything down to the bare minimum.
So, for Lanx she wanted to inscribe the body into a space, to make lines of energy move over the body and into the space.
“The more precise you can be as a choreographer, the more free you can be as a dancer,” she explained.
The extreme level of detail Acker goes into as the choreo- grapher made for a hypnotic performance and gave the audience much to talk about afterwards.
Very few of the SA choreographers showcased at the National Arts Festival this year were quite so compulsive.
Gregory Maqoma and Luyanda Sidiya’s Mayhem remained a highlight. Their very successful merging of African ritual movements and classical dance technique is doing much to create a new dance vocabulary that is uniquely South African.
The production was awarded a Silver Ovation Award by the festival management.
Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance Bailey Snyman managed to polarise views about his new work Moffie, a dance production based on a novel by Andre Carl van der Merwe.
Depending on who you listened to, he was either amazingly inventive, or deadly boring.
So I watched his other work instead, for a group of new works by Northern Dance Project, In Situ.
Snyman used 16 female dancers who looked incredibly uncomfortable and out of place and made me wonder what the piece would have looked like using just male dancers.
There was a lot of fluttering about, with dancers lifting each other and looking like they really wanted to be elsewhere.
Not only did they not seem to be feeling the energy, they weren’t exactly convincing the audience.
The name of Moving Into Dance Mophatong’s piece, Signatures, suggested they would be presenting their trademark look.
But, except for some flashes of genius in terms of aggressive arm movements and an interesting idea centered around dancing with lights in hand, it was basically seaweed arms and butterfly hands.
This was a pared down version of what they have done up in Joburg, so they were missing out on all the accoutrements they would normally use on stage.
Plus, fumbling the dance moves is never a good thing.