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

DANCE IN ACTION (article first published : 2000-11-16)

The Drama and Performance Studies Programme of the University of Natal (Durban) presented an evening of movement and dance in Dance in Action 2000 on November 13 and 14 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. This annual presentation showcases the vast amount of talent either studying in the department or about to graduate.

Most of the works were choreographed and workshopped by Llilane Loots, a lecturer in the department and director of the Flatfoot Dance Company.

Earth – Sky featuring first year students consisted of three parts, with the first - Earth - being choreographed by Delene Robson. This is always the most challenging item of the programme as choreographers invariably have to work with students who had little or no movement experience before they joined the department. Skilful use of available ability made this three-piece work dealing with multiculturalism, ritual and fusion dance highly enjoyable.

These days … I am learning to say goodbye was presented by the second level drama students. The work focused on the use of physical theatre to translate themes and ideas into dance. Dealing with what it means to grow, move on and then say goodbye, this work featured more expansive and challenging movement. Musa Hlatshwayo, last seen in Sophiatown proved that he’s just as good a dancer as an actor.

Third-year student Welile Tembe is fast gaining a reputation as a sassy stand-up comic. Certainly comedy is her forte which meant that the largely student audience expected her to play for laughs. This was unfortunate because her fine performance in Fist Full of Precious Things was based on several levels, not all of them comedic. As a group of women located in South Africa, the all-female third-year cast set out to “unpack, challenge and laugh at who they were and what they were supposed to be”.

After interval, the programme included two works by the Flatfoot Dance Company which is housed and supported by the Drama and Performance Studies Programme.

Originally choreographed for the Jomba! 2000 contemporary dance festival, trying to find our way home was made possible by a grant from the Centre for Creative Arts. A thought-provoking and progressive piece dealing with the make-up of the diversified South African culture, it included a clever design feature by Mervyn McMurtry of framed “skins” made of blankets.

Noticeable by his absence from Flatfoot was student member Mbongiseni Patrick Buthelezi, who is currently studying in London. With Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre member Sandile Mbili, he was one of the joint winners of this year’s Rio Tinto scholarship to the London Contemporary Dance School. Despite the considerable advantages to a young dancer of remaining in London for as long as possible, Patrick fully intends to return at the end of his scholarship term to continue his studies at UND.

Kwaito Jamming With Bach sent the audience into an uproar and justifiably so. Specially created for Dance in Action 2000, it is described as a “wry and humorous comment on South African simunye culture – a celebration of our hybridity at its most chaotic”. Led by the inimitable Deirdre Atkins, those with a classical ability proved that they could aggressively engage in the kwaito style with the best of them – and introduce a bit of extra style, as well!

All-told the show was great. The audience, however, was sometimes extremely distracting. Perhaps I’m a bit hyper-sensitive after being on the receiving end of certain extremely badly behaved and undisciplined school audiences when I was in the cast of A Man for All Seasons, but I seem to sense a pattern emerging and I don’t like what I see.

While one encourages vibrant audience participation and welcomes it, there is a certain behavioural standard that should be set at school and, eventually, tertiary education level. Wolf whistles, hoots, rugby-crowd-like yells and clicks resounding round the auditorium like a Mexican Wave do not have a place in a theatre. If the action on stage does not justify a raucous response, it’s insulting to the cast and disrespectful to other members of the audience.

I would strongly suggest that the UND drama department try to temper the vocal enthusiasm of their students when they are sitting in an auditorium and to encourage them to concentrate on what a performer is trying to get across rather than what he or she means to them in real life.

It’s a tough and unsentimental world out there in professional theatre – and we desperately need committed, educated and responsible audiences just as much as we need talented performers. Rather get prepared now than be disillusioned later.




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