Lee Kotza and Joy Millar. Picture: Supplied

The irony of the memoirs of a Dance Umbrella newbie is that my maiden experience of one of its productions was probably of its last showcase. 

After 30 years of telling stories through dance, one of the most important showcases of the arts in the country will possibly come to an end because of financial constraints.

A travesty if you ask me.

Back to the dance. I walked into the Dance Factory in Newtown and was slightly unsure of what to expect. It looked and felt like a theatre, but I was uncertain about how the whole evening would pan out.

The first experience I had had of a theatrical dance piece was last year at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, where I saw Dada Masilo’s Gizelle.

While I was floored by the intensity of emotion attached to the piece and how a European production could be given a new lease on life that made it more African, I was also struck by how the full production looked and felt, and how the costuming, lighting and music all worked in perfect symmetry to create an impressive effect. I remember how in awe I was at how movement - wordless movement at that - could be translated into emotion and how it was completely theatrical, just without dialogue.

Musa Hlatshwayo and Sbonelo Mchunu unfurl the complex-ities of black male masculinity in Doda. Picture: Supplied

The productions I experienced on Saturday night comprised a double bill of Doda and In C, productions that were, in their genesis, completely different, but both concerned with dissecting the human condition.

The opening of Doda, as presented by Musa Hlatshwayo - the Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance and a talented, established choreographer - kicked off with the guitar riff of a maskandi track. Hlatshwayo and Mchunu then went through the process of unfurling the complexity of black male masculinity.

In between, pieces of dialogue were carefully curated into the work, by the characters on stage - but it’s mostly intense, charged dancing that takes place. In the beginning, Hlatshwayo, in character, tells the stories of Bongeka Phungula and Popi Qwabe, who were found dead in Soweto last year, as a way to illustrate how the negative influences of patriarchy can sometimes have adverse and even fatal impacts on women.

What was more touching was that Hlatshwayo had been acquainted with both of the slain young women, as they had both been his dance students at some point.

This is something that he explains as being a catch-22; he was in grief about what had happened to them, but he also recognised the importance of using the medium of art to tell parts of their stories.

We could see through their movement and sudden tapping of feet, and their pained expressions the amount of discomfort and turmoil that society forces men to go through, to prove they are worthy of being men and “leaders in society”.

This piece is an emotional rollercoaster, created by a black man as a form of artistic expression, for other black males and others besides.

The next production, In C, is a contemporary dance piece choreographed to the 1964 classic by Terry Riley.

The duo Without Eyes gave the music a 21st-century treatment, which allowed the dancers and the sound to form a conversation that ebbed and flowed. The show was produced by the Darkroom Contemporary Dance Theatre.

The choreography of Louise Coetzer allowed you to tap into the intimacies of dance. I was struck by how the dancers would quite literally at times fold themselves into one another, creating a call-and-response piece that was charged with emotion and aesthetically pleasing to see. It created the ultimate viewing experience.

I was concerned about my ability to connect with the work but this seemed misplaced, because art has a specific role - to comment, entertain and inspire - and as a first-timer, I felt that I had experienced all three of these emotions.

Not bad for a newbie.

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