DANCE UMBRELLA 25 YEARS ON
VENUE: The Wits Theatre
At the end of Gregory Maqoma’s Beautiful Us, a packed Wits Theatre erupted into a rowdy standing ovation.
It was if the audience on Thursday night was not only acknowledging Vuyani Dance Theatre’s startling hybridity and technical diversity but paying homage to all the dancers and choreographers who have stamped their identities and creativity on the Dance Umbrella stage.
After all, this was where, in 1994, a young Moving into Dance dancer from Soweto named Maqoma took his fledgling steps as a choreo- grapher on Stepping Stones.
It is also where, in the first festival in 1989, Carly Dibakwane from Bapedi Hall in Meadowlands unleashed his Afro-jazz on a lit stage. Twenty-five years later, his Soweto Dance Project was back with a new generation of dancers with Out of the Tunnel, an uneven male quartet directed by Douglas Sekete, one of his protégés.
Many strands of our dance heritage unravelled and intertwined over these five celebratory 25 Years On programmes, which encapsulated Dance Umbrella’s multifaceted role in showcasing new choreography, encouraging contemporary dance in rural and urban communities and building audiences.
The Africalia and Rand Merchant Bank-funded DanceXChange training programme could have had no better endorsement than Thabo Kobedi’s showcase Thola (Discoveries), performed by eight adventurous traditional dancers from KwaMashu, KwaZulu-Natal, and Thohoyandou, Limpopo; or fledgling choreographer Byron Klassen’s topical I Don’t, I Won’t, I Can’t danced by 19-year-old newcomer Olivia Daniela from Springbok and actor Rickie Cloete. They work with Alfred Hinkel’s Garage dance company in O’Kiep.
Remnants and residues of contemporary theatre dance’s evolution from the late 1970s were on display – notably Jayesperi Moopen’s first Afro-Indian fusion piece, Circles and Squares, and Christopher Kindo’s classic Me and You, revived by Kelsey Middlleton’s KMad.Com.
That hallmark choreographic ingenuity and invention is also evident in the dwindling number of independent dance makers the calibre of Thabo Rapoo and Athena Mazarakis.
Mazarakis’ achingly poignant installation work Standing By, on rape and gender violence, is unparalleled in its efficacy and honesty.
Programme 1 unveiled Sonia Radebe’s still gestating Treasure to a Being for Moving into Dance Mophatong. Conceptual contusions burst open to a collage score including a section by Yogin Sullaphen. Radebe has crafted a Morse code of eccentric physicality meshed with pungent theatricality. This work set the benchmark for the celebration’s aesthetic gymnastics.