Stand out with these 3 summer looks!
Bodies in distress – bodies remembering, forgetting, purging, imagining, hoping…
For two weeks young, middle-aged and aged dancers put themselves on the line for the condensed version of Dance Umbrella which turned out to be the survival edition.
This 25th anniversary offering of 14 programmes and a Stepping Stones double-bill as part of the Joburg Arts Alive International Festival was patchy, to say the least. There already has been a slip in quality and artistic synergy since the three-day Birthday Celebration (also sponsored by Arts Alive) at The Wits Theatre held from February 14 to 16.
This can partly be blamed on the fact that local companies and independents are scrambling to keep going with shrinking resources.
Despite the comparatively dis-embodied, non-centralised, nature of Dance Forum’s programming spread between the Dance Factory, The Market Theatre (still in partial building site mode), Wits (for Stepping Stones and the uncurated, marathon of a mixed bill), many insights and revelations were provided by vital commissioning.
I write this before having seen the last three programmes which include Nelisiwe Xaba and Mocke J van Veuren’s Uncles & Angels/Scars & Cigarettes (the 3D DVD version of Uncles & Angels has just won the R100 000 FNB Art Prize).
The range and diversity of dancers and choreographers representing various eras in our history was striking, beginning with Adele Blank who was honoured in Blank Page.
Her presence on The Market Theatre stage, with her choreography and generations of dancers she had trained, was a salient reminder of the socio- political role South African contemporary dance continues to play in our fractured society.
Apart from Blank and ageing guests, local dancers and performers of a certain age who are not making exits but notable entrances were Cape Town’s Dinah Eppel (in Nyamza’s Okuyo Phantsi Kwempumlo/The Meal) and the irrepressible Tony Bentel and ballet master Pasi Niemenen in Kristin Wilson’s quirky, developing, Platitudes (which is going to the Aardklop Festival).
Dominating the visitor’s stage in this respect was Senegal’s Germaine Acogny, 69, in her warmly embracing personal memoir Songkook Yaakaar (Facing up to Hope), co-created with Pierre Doussaint.
What this hour-long solo lacked in choreographic focus and production values it made up for with this legendary dancer and teacher’s cultural vision and incandescent spirituality. Obviously the mature artist has plenty to offer in a theatre dance arena traditionally reserved for the young.
Portugal’s Francisco Comacho, 46, confirmed this tenfold in his vintage solo Our Lady of the Flowers at Wits. Unfortunately Joburg audiences missed out on his highly relevant, anarchic, The King in Exile, performed at Jomba! in Durban and Gipca (Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts) in Cape Town.
In the Jomba! programme note Camacho talks about how his work continuously explores “a body whose identity is captured within the traps of history and representation”.
This statement epitomises many Umbrella works, including Fana Tshabalala’s very well-received Indumba.
Top of the list in generating thrilling hybrid iconography, cross-generational interaction and racial stereotype busting is Nyamza’s The Meal. What a difference a fellowship makes.
The raw diamond which landed on the Cape Town Edge stage in Grahamstown last year has, after a residency at Gipca, with input from veteran dance maker Tossie van Tonder, become a seminal, astutely subversive, repertory gem.
The (white) grandmother (Dinah Eppel), speaking Xhosa, tells a child at her feet (Nyamza, then Ndawo) the story of a duck which is attacked by an eagle. When she rises, under her blanket is a frilly flamingo pink tutu. The bare-footed African bodies are then encased in these symbols of Western classical art.
But they aren’t trapped for long in the prescriptions of turn out, and other technical conventions, which they are equal to. African rhythms and movements infuse their dancing bodies fuelled by Saint-Saëns and Tchaikovsky’s emblematic music overlaid with Eppel’s singing and uhadi playing of traditional Xhosa songs.
Cultural cross-cover is rarely this beautifully profound or moving.