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SIDE BY SIDE (article first published : 2006-08-11)

Appearing as part of the Playhouse Company’s 10th annual International Women’s Arts Festival, Side by Side is a major new dance production commissioned by the Playhouse. It showcases the choreographic talents of award-winning dance personalities S’bonakaliso Ndaba and Lliane Loots and their respective companies - Phenduka Dance Theatre and Flatfoot Dance Company.

Appropriately for the festival, the dance work explores and celebrates women’s spirituality. Both dance companies have their individual styles and visions but in Side by Side, Sbo and Lliane have welded their respective resources into a sustained and integrated work.

Mervyn McMurtry’s design ranges from the stark white of the costumes and hangings to the softer white of the set structure. An impressive giant amulet of corrugated aluminium occasionally descends from the flies to portray video clips – an installation by Doung Anwar Jahangeer – of women’s faces, food and (although I couldn’t work out the association of ideas) a puffer fish!

Led by a pregnant Thulile Bhengu, proudly protecting and parading the bulge of her future child, the dancers give a tour de force performance in a production that requires much focus and sustainability. I couldn’t help drawing the parallel to Ravel’s famous musical work –this is almost a Bolero in Africa, with the dancers starting off slowly and sedately like shrouded giraffes and gradually building up to an energised climax invoking African styles and rhythms.

Visually, it’s a splendid piece and Richard Parker’s lighting design is, as always, moody and beautifully evocative.

Side by Side is a unique joint venture between these two choreographers and their companies and it is hoped that the production will be seen outside the province of KZN.

Perhaps it was because I had had an exceptionally hectic day that I tended to find the exploration too slow on its pathway to exuberance. But then Ravel did the same thing with Bolero and look what a classic that turned out to be!

There will be two more performances in the Drama Theatre at the Playhouse tomorrow and on Sunday at 19h00. Book at Computicket or Dial-A-Seat on 031 369 9444. – Caroline Smart




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