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SUNGHURSH (article first published : 2001-09-8; last edited : 2008-09-7)

Smeetha Maharaj, artistic director of the Nateshwa Dance Company has just launched her most ambitious project to date with Sunghursh jointly presented with The Playhouse Company and currently running in the Playhouse Drama.

A glittering gala opening saw the Playhouse foyer charmingly decorated while beautiful young ladies graced the staircase, welcoming the audience as they made their way up to the Drama. Before the show opened, KZN Minister of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, Mr Narend Singh, made some pertinent remarks about art and culture. These, hopefully, reflect the feeling of the rest of provincial government.

In acknowledging the part song and dance have played throughout the ages as a “highly effective medium” of handing down history, Narend Singh paid tribute to the society in KZN today. While blending different arts and cultures – “the attributes of any successful society” (arts funders, take note!) it harnessed human diversity in a positive manner. He went on to say that it was “no coincidence that history had proved that periods of cultural and artistic flowering have coincided with political stability and economic growth.”

Therefore what do we need for a stable and economically strong South Africa? Quite obviously, more money for the arts, that’s what! Thank you, Minister, for your words of wisdom.

Directed and choreographed by Smeetha Maharaj, Sunghursh is a dance drama depicting the historic struggle of the South African Indian from the early days of the arrival of the indentured labourers in the late 1860’s to the present. The vast array of costumes – many of them imported from India – are the most beautiful I have seen on a stage in KZN. With their stunning colours, flowing fabrics and adornment, they provide a visual feast which alone is worth the visit to the show.

If Sunghursh was labelled a dance production, I would give it top marks for its standard and excellence. However, it has been presented as a dance drama and it is in the latter genre that it falls down fairly heavily. Not so Jailoshini Naidoo’s hard-hitting and well presented narrative, but rather in the dramatic sequences by performers who do not possess sufficient acting training to cope with a stage the size of the Drama theatre.

The three aspects of the production – dance, narrative and dramatic sequences – travel parallel to each other rather than forming a united multi-media whole. Also, certain numbers are overlong and there is a strong Bollywood influence. While Smeetha Maharaj is well-versed in the field of dance, she would have been advised to have called on the skills of an experienced dance drama director to meld the production together.

There are memorable highlights, particularly the quietly elegant and beautiful Vande Matheram which opened the second half. Also featured are what have now become legendary moments of history: FW de Klerk’s announcement of the release of political prisoners and Mandela’s speech on his release from prison.

Sunghursh provides a valuable narrative charting the history of the Indian community in South Africa from its early days to its present position in the overall tapestry of the nation. It is a celebration of the Indian spirit and the beauty of India’s culture while posing a strong reminder of the painful process of the introduction of this very culture to South Africa.- Caroline Smart

Sunghursh runs until September 16 at 19h30, with matinees on Sundays at 15h00. Tickets R30. Booking is at TicketWeb outlets, credit cards on (031) 369-9444. A block booking discount of 10% is available for bookings of 20 or more tickets for evening performances and the Sunday matinees.




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