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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE FAMILY AND I (article first published : 2007-10-20)

Durban can be justifiably proud of its Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre which has grown to award-winning heights under the artistic directorship of Jay Pather. Now that Jay has moved to Cape Town, Siwela Sonke is flying solo, as it were. However, the energy and vision of its highly talented team - choreographers Eric Shabalala, Ntombi Gasa and Neliswa Rushualang - is very evident in its latest production The Family and I which is running in The Playhouse Loft.

Siwela Sonke recently returned from appearing in Muscat, Dubai, and this production falls under the banner of the Playhouse’s New Stages project. Celebrating the company’s various dance styles, it also showcases the capacity of the eight trainee dancers who have been working with Siwela Sonke for a year.

My invitation read 19h30 and the performance actually started at 19h00 – but luck was with me and the show went up late so I only missed about fifteen minutes. (I was allowed privileged late entry because I was writing a review. Please don’t try this yourself. There is – quite rightly – no admittance once the performance has started)

Unfortunately, by the time I got into the show I had missed Eric Shabalala’s Waiting Moment and Ntombi Gasa’s Untitled. According to the programme notes, Waiting Moment tells about how we wait in our life for things to happen while Untitled is about looking at harsh reality and the strength of women.

The two pieces I managed to see were both by Neliswa Rushualang: Condemned is about different individuals who find themselves in a solitary space but all they have in common is to free themselves and break out of a closed space in different ways. Accompanying the piece were shots of the Grey Street area, concentrating on the various religious cultures concentrated there.

Performed in white costumes with the dancers covered in white clay, the moving and forceful Unandi is about boys who become transfigured and transformed into men.

Apart from Ntombi Gasa and Neliswa Rushualang who also perform, the company is made up of Sibusiso Gantsa; Sipho Gasa; Nkanyiso Kunene; Siyabonga Mhlongo; Sandile Mkhize; Mxolisi Nkomonde, Nomsa Ngubane and Makhosi Mbatha-Aazanah with actor Vivian Moodley providing some highly amusing comedy links.

I was incensed tonight by the refusal of the young man next to me to turn off his cellphone, despite the fact that I informed him twice that he was in the wrong. I despair about getting audiences to understand that they are watching live theatre. All too often, actors and dancers have to deal with this disrespectful response from ignorant audience members while trying to concentrate on producing their best performances for those who actually care. There is no place for cellphones in theatre. Leave them at home with the television set which doesn’t mind being interrupted!

The Family and I has one more performance on October 20 at 19h00. Tickets R45 booked through Computicket on 083 915 8000 or through the Playhouse Box Office on 031 369 9540 or 031-369 9555. If you enjoy contemporary dance theatre –don’t miss it! – Caroline Smart




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