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TWISTED BONES (article first published : 2008-05-10)

The Playhouse Company’s New Stages programme is presenting a new programme by the Durban-based contemporary dance company, Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre in The Playhouse Loft for a short season. Titled Twisted Bones, it is choreographed by Eric Shabalala who is one of the three directors of this award-winning and acclaimed professional company, along with Ntombi Gasa and Neliswa Rushualang.

Ntombi and Nellie appear in Twisted Bones and they are always compelling performers to watch with their sense of grace and focus. However, if you can tear your eyes away from them, you will pick up strong performances – and some very impressive leaps and lifts - from the rest of the company which includes Nhlakanipho Cele, Sibusiso Gantsa, Nkanyiso Kunene, Phumzile Masina, Siyabonga Mhlongo, Sandile Mkhize, Nomsa Ngubane and Mxolisi Nkomonde. Guest artists include Pravika Nandkishore – what a delight to see her back again! - and Nadine Oberholzer who brings her balletic skills to the cultural mix.

Special mention must be made of Phumzile Masina, another dancer of grace and focus whose slow movements in a mesmerising sleep-walking type of scene was most impressive, as well as Mxolisi Nkomonde, Nkanyiso Kunene and Siyabonga Mhlongo.

The work is divided into two parts, the first concentrating on showcasing the versatility of the company members. In a group scene, the white dancer feels threatened in an otherwise black group until a male approaches her and they tentatively make contact, neither too sure how the other will react. From there, the energy bounces off into different dance styles from ballet and gumboot to Indian classical music and tap dance.

Using a classical Indian percussive backing, the reference to “twisted bones” was obvious in the second part with frenetic movements – nicely executed, particularly by Siyabonga Mhlongo – which gave the impression that fear, traffic and noise is probably affecting us more than we know. However, I found too many conflicting messages here. It begins with a video presentation of Fitz University in America but without the sound accompanying the two interviews; it was unclear as to the initial focus other than on the subject of segregation.

I think this second piece needs reworking by Eric to channel his thoughts and ideas more clearly. In his programme notes, he states that: “Twisted Bones is a work about people being prepared to help each other in their situations in life. In so doing they realise that they have something in common with each other. We live by sharing our sorrows and pains with people close to us. Sometimes we cry in silence because we are scared of sharing our sadness. By speaking to one another we find relief.”

There was no acknowledgement to a costume designer so I’m not sure whether the costumes came from the Playhouse Wardrobe department. Wherever they came from, they were attractive and worked well.

Supported by the National Arts Council of South Africa, Siwela Sonke is able to continue its operations for a further six months, thanks to this funding. These operations include community development projects in Cato Crest, Claremont and on the South Coast in KwaMachi. Most of the dancers appearing in Twisted Bones have come through these projects and their standard of performance is testimony to the high quality of training they have received from Siwela Sonke. The company also pays credit to its founding director, Jay Pather.

The response to Twisted Bones has been excellent, with the show playing to capacity audiences. Considering the success of the production, it might be an idea for the Playhouse to bring the production back for a rerun which will further entrench Siwela Sonke’s survival.

Twisted Bones lasts one hour and 20 minutes and has a further performance in The Playhouse Loft tomorrow (May 11) at 15h00 but I understand that the booking is heavy so be advised and check with Computicket first whether tickets are available, unless you’re happy to take a chance and just pitch up at the theatre. Siwela Sonke offers productions for schools audiences and Twisted Bones is one of them. For more information contact Ntombi Gasa or Nellie Rushualang on 031 307 6685 or fax 031 307 6686 or email ntombigasaz@yahoo.com - Caroline Smart




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