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MAINLAND (article first published : 2002-04-12)

Durban’s Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company never ceases to amaze with its strong sense of survival – and this can be attributed directly to the extraordinary commitment and loyalty of its artistic director Mark Hawkins, administrator Peter Taylor, resident choreographer David Gouldie and the small team of highly talented and versatile dancers.

Operating on a miniscule – sometimes non-existent – budget, they have managed to stay afloat in the difficult financial times facing those in the various arts disciplines. However with their latest ground-breaking project, MainLand, they have received funding from the National Arts Council and the KZN Arts and Culture Council. Support from commercial outlets Pro-Print, XPR, Production Projects and Scooters Pizza with matching grant from Business & Arts South Africa (BASA) and much help in kind from other organisations has resulted in a highly innovative and dramatic programme. This heads for the Market Theatre and the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown after its Durban season.

MainLand is a double-bill dance programme inspired by South African literature. It features two works: The Visiting which features music and stories from Robben Island and The Suit, taken from Can Themba’s short story of the same name set in the heyday of Sophiatown.

Featuring Cheryl Burger, Louise Fraquet, Sifiso Khumalo, Ebrahim Medell and Vusi Thabethe, The Visiting is a new work by Phenduka Dance Theatre’s Sbonakaliso Ndaba. Set to music by Louis Andriessen (Hokotus), it’s all about queues. Particularly those encountered in a prison environment – for clothing, for medical, for food, to work in the quarry, for information or for visits. The work is filled with anger, frustration, confrontation and aggression – at one stage the “inmates” cover their faces as if refusing to see outside of their contained world, despite encouragement from others. As Sbonakaliso Ndaba wryly states “When you are free, you will queue for democracy.”

The Suit is choreographed by Boyzie Cekwana of The Floating Outfit Project. Extending Can Themba’s riveting tale of betrayal, jealousy and revenge, it is significant on many points - not least being Robert Whitehead’s acute and efficient direction, Xoli Norman’s original score, Michael Broderick’s clean, clear and effective lighting design or Amanda Laird Cherry’s designs.

Then there’s the extraordinary performance by Desiré Davids (Matilda) who presents a newly-acquired maturity and dramatic ability. With his extraordinarily long arms allowing him a unique fluidity, Boyzie is always a joy to watch. As her husband, he provides a perfect foil for Matilda’s vulnerability and natural high spirits in his controlled and chilling determination to inflict an exacting punishment for her unfaithfulness.

Vusi Thabethe is brooding and sensual as the lover while Ebrahim Medell plays a delightful Maphikela who reveals Matilda’s affair. The sycophantic group of friends are performed by Cheryl Burger (hilarious as the inebriated woman at the party), Louise Fraquet and Nicole McCreedy.

MainLand runs at St Mary's Church Hall (alongside Beanbag Bohemia) from April 9 to 20, with further performances at the Hilton College Theatre on 25 April. More information about the season or for block bookings from Peter Taylor on 031 209-0142. If you consider yourself a lover of dance and want to be part of an exciting process, don’t miss this one! – Caroline Smart




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