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One surname that pops up across the main programme at this year’s Baxter Dance Festival is Medell, referring to three different choreographers, all of them working with the Eoan Group Theatre Company, writes Theresa Smith.
While the dance company is only 18 months old in its current guise, the Eoan Group Theatre Company have a longstanding relationship with the Baxter Dance Festival.
Ebrahim Medell was the first commissioned choreographer at the Baxter Dance Festival when it started in 2005 and he and his sister, Abeedah, have irregularly presented work over the years on the platform.
Last year, the choreographic duo made a macabre, but welcome splash on the festival’s main programme with Dead Man’s Tale, reminding Cape Town’s dance community that they were still on the scene.
At the same time Mishkaah Medell, 26, impressed on the off- main programme in Poison and Wine Infractions.
This year Mishkaah (Abeedah’s daughter) steps on to the main programme as both a dancer and choreographer of Re(Verse) which draws on eight dancers.
Abeedah’s piece is When We Fall which also draws on eight dancers, including Mishkaah.
“I don’t need a man to tell my story,” Abeedah says with a smile on her face, but serious nonetheless.
The eight black-clad dancers trade off an umbrella between them as they dance, playing on the idea of the act of falling. For the world time flies, but it freezes for you as you fall, Abeedah pointed out.
Drawing on the theme of spirituality, When We Fall explores the idea of falling and failing, but having the strength to get up and keep on going, and specifically how women do it.
“No one else can tell the story like a woman can,” said Abeedah (who is the principal of the Eoan Group School of Performing Arts and director for the Eoan Group Theatre Company).
The dance group consists of two permanent members, so draws on the trainees from the school for large-scale performances.
Abeedah explained that her choreography does not speak to the professional choreographer, but is aimed at the man on the street.
“I hope you feel something, I want that gasp at the end. This is what I see contemporary (dance) to be,” said Abeedah.
“Watching my mom choreograph over the years, I have learnt to show the emotion,” said Mishkaah. “It took me a while to let go and express that emotion in dance, but I am starting to get the hang of it.”
Mishkaah also uses eight dancers in Re(Verse), which is inspired by the poetry of John Keats, drawing on the score of the film Bright Star, incorporating dialogue from the film.
Re(Verse) draws on the concept of the demise of letter-sending and how that affects the social mode of expressing emotions.
“How people miss the simple things in life, like reading a letter, or having a note left for you and how things can be misinterpreted. I don’t want someone to just say: ‘I love you’. I want the drama. Why can’t I be cheesy,” asked Mishkaah.
The Eoan Group Theatre Company artistic director, Ebrahim is in France with the Nounouche Side Show as part of the South Africa-France Season (of cultural exchange), but he will use a complement of 21 dancers for Shifting Dependancies at the Baxter Dance Festival.
Abeedah explained that his piece is much more “neo-classical, theatrical and more dramatic”.
“He will tell you: ‘No story, just watch. Whatever you get from it, take it home with you’.”
Leticia Fisher Dennis will use the Eoan Group’s School of Performing Arts in the off-main programme, drawing on hip hop for It was that but now it’s this, and there is Desireé Angus’ Roses which also draws on various styles including belly dancing.
Abeedah is impressed by the growth of the festival over the years and laughs at how they struggled to fill a 10-minute programme slot nine years ago, and now they are presenting multiple performances.
“I think what’s important with the Eoan Group is the growth of the choreographers on the Baxter platform. I feel it has done so much for the teachers who have put up works and… for the dancers.”
“We have a stage and most times do two performances a year and we have exams and we’re busy. We have more than 300 children and we do charity and our junior group goes out whenever anybody asks and we have a senior group that does the same. So, we’re busy all the time. But, when you go to any other theatre it’s refreshing. First of all it’s new… new stage, different faces and I feel like I’m growing.
“If I can see the growth in my teachers and choreographers and dancers since that first time to now, it’s only respect and gratitude that I can show to the Baxter.”
• The Baxter Dance Festival, Thursday to October 12.
Check www.baxter.co.za for the full programme.