The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative DANSBYTES 25-26Oct 2013 UJ Con Cowan Theatre 'Shadows' choreographed by Craig Morris and performed by Bonwa Mbontsi, Ryan Mayne and Tertia Coetzee. Photograph:John Hogg


What a difference a year makes. That was the indelible impression left by The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative’s (FATC) Dansbytes 1 which has left significant marks on South African choreography.

This showcase for the technical growth and artistic finesse of five of the lottery-funded company’s six 2012 interns, whose contracts ended last week, also twinned various approaches in experimenting with form and style.

The graduate dancers were Tertia Coetzee (ex-Tshwane Dance Theatre), Andima Kula (Moving into Dance Mophatong graduate), Thapelo Kotlolo (ex-Sibikwa Arts Dance Company) and University of Natal Pietermaritzburg drama graduates Ryan Mayne and Bonwa Mbontsi.

A predominant theme of this four-part bill, in the minute Con Cowan Theatre, was shadowy silhouettes perhaps reflecting the sketchy future of South Africa’s professional dance companies.

Craig Morris set the tone with Shadows, a playfully creative trio for Mayne, Mbontsi and Coetzee.

The man tries to light a cigarette with a vintage lighter. He doesn’t succeed but traces the outlines of his body instead setting up a physically interactive play zone reflected on a screen.

A collage of music from Louis Armstrong to Elvis Presley intertwines with Morris’ humorous liquid shadow play and gently romantic imagery and physical cartooning which conjure up reality and illusion, clarity and distortion, light and shade. An astutely layered work well worth developing for its blend of shifting perspectives, which interlocks with perception.

In It’s not a balloon title Shanell Winlock’s imagination and sense of wonder is at play again, this time more holistically, in a visually beguiling piece which transposes the gravity-defying beauty of a balloon with the inflating/deflating human body.

A man (Mayne) standing with a green balloon is the opening image which sets off a ripple effect of bodies and multiple-coloured balloons in a whimsical idyll on gravity, mobility, elasticity, flight. Charlton van Rooyen takes off from the back of dancers’ necks.

His wings: a peacock-coloured bunch of balloons. Physical and spatial entanglements unfurl to the not ideal Hans Zimmer score.

Another concept well worth developing.

Van Rooyen’s To be Continued… is also pre-occupied with shadow play. But the totemic figures behind the strips of white plastic are roughly hewn, graffiti-like, burst-ing through on to the stage.

Here’s a young choreographer with terrific ideas, who in the development of a vocabulary and movement dynamics stays true to his hip hop roots and technical contemporary dance training. He is developing a language, streetwise neo-classicism, tinged with dynamic theatricality.

But first things first: compo-sition and structure demand attention…

Fana Tshabalala’s solo The Gates of Hell 1, which emerged at Danse l’Afrique danse! at the Soweto Theatre, has evolved into an aesthetic masterpiece. The genesis of this journey of emotional and physical purgatory, the titanic struggle between lusty flesh and divine spirit, began in The Gates of Hell, a sensual duet featuring the choreographer and Sonia Radebe at Dance Umbrella 2012. Then in Grahamstown, as performed by Tshabalala with Muzi Shili, this study inspired by Rodin’s sculptures, took on a more macho texture, echoing and embodying Picasso’s war-centred Guernica.

After the 25-year-old Sebokeng-born dancer-choreographer moved from Moving into Dance Mophatong to Forgotten Angle, Tshabalala staged his most accomplished solo to date.

Gates of Hell 1 is a sophisticated, profoundly enigmatic, securely crafted manifesto of human expression in tandem with Christian Zanesi’s original electronic score. The serene beauty of the moving human body, casting shadows on its immortality with every breath, is polluted by the chaotic conflict inflicted by mortal temptation. Sheer poetry.

Dansbytes 2, at the Con Cowan Theatre, Bunting Road Campus, University of Johannesburg on December 5-8, features new works by FATC’s Thabo Kobeli, Irven Teme and Fana Tshabalala.