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

OLIVER (article first published : 2001-07-4)

A body lies prone – a young boy (Oliver) appears and is distraught at the sight, placing his jacket under her head. We assume it’s his mother. Someone eventually removes the jacket from the body and returns it to him. Another gives him a pendant. He fights off those who would strip the body of its belongings but not before a darkly-dressed ominous figure removes slippers from the body.

What follows is an inordinately lengthy sequence in which the boy is in turn threatened and pushed around. The ominous figure is all-powerful.

This is the beginning of The Dance Factory’s Oliver choreographed by Marie Brolin-Tani and appearing on the Standard Bank National Arts Festival on the main frame. If Marie Brolin-Tani’s programme notes had not been so specific in explaining that she had “chosen to move the story of Oliver to the present time” and identified all the characters, I would not have been so critical. Even accepting her explanation that “Oliver is a girl who has chosen to be a boy, to make life easier for her to survive.”

The Dance Factory’s decision to take this well-known character and title story by Charles Dickens and set it fairly and squarely in a South African context captured my enthusiasm when I first heard about it. It was a brilliant idea and aptly chosen.

Unfortunately, I did not feel that Oliver really explored the numerous possibilities open to it by engaging in such a scenario.

Dada, who played Oliver, is a fine talent - a good dancer and a versatile performer. However, she wasn’t given scope to explore the character to any depth nor was she given choreography that was sufficiently challenging for her abilities. Her movements were repetitive and often without purpose.

The ensemble comprises some highly capable performers and there was much opportunity for small character roles. Notable performances were given by Phindile Kula, Sonia Radebe, Filike Zikhali and Tshepo Zasekhaya.

If I hadn’t read the programme notes and been aware of the plot, I would have passed this production off as an enjoyable hour spent watching a youthful cast show off their considerable talents. However, I did read the notes. And I wasn’t happy with the interpretation. - Caroline Smart




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