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WOMEN’S FESTIVAL DANCE – REVIEW (article first published : 1999-08-20)

Sponsored by Transnet, the Playhouse Company’s South African Women's Arts Festival 1999 featured a dance programme which included works by top female contemporary choreographers from around South Africa.

Set to a collage of music by Arvo Pärt and wind sounds, knowing it was a mirage made no difference was presented by the Grahamstown-based First Physical Theatre Company. Emitting powerful indrawn gasps, exhalations and the odd giggle, Helen Seaman, Sheena Stannard and Brink Scholtz performed against video footage taken from an installation by Tanya Poole filmed in 1998. Juanita Finestone, who also choreographed the dance piece, performed submerged in a hydrostatic tank and the resulting footage produced fascinating and ethereal visual images.

There were three solo pieces. Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre member Ntombi Gasa expressively performed her own Life and Soul set to Yulunga by Dead can Dance, a moving work dedicated to the memory of her brother, actor Yise Gasa. Portia Mashigo, from the Johannesburg-based Moving Into Dance Company, also interpreted her own Mum’s Man (My Father). Involving the clever use of a grass mat, it is set to Nina Simone’s My Man’s Gone Now and offers no sound for the first couple of minutes other than the slap of Portia’s feet on the mat or its crisp swish as it hits the floor.

Whoever thought of choreographing a dance work to the accompaniment of the sounds of chewing gum? The Mmabatho-based Northwest Arts Council’s Dance Company’s artistic director did. Innovative Susan Abraham has produced the fascinating and novel Lorcia, appropriately named for its dancer, the incredible Lorcia Cooper. An exciting performer with her close-cropped hair, coiled energy and highly disciplined body, she put in as controlled a performance in this piece as she did in another Susan Abraham’s work, Exposed. Here, she appeared topless with Gaven Taele in a sensual duet examining the power play between genders.

Linda Vargas with back-up support from Juana Vargas and David Romero celebrated the joy of being a woman in Spanish flamenco style with Alegrias to the flying fingers of guitarist Demi Fernandez and a backdrop of strong dramatic lighting. Choreographed by Suria Govender, Durban’s Surialanga Dance Company presented Jesuvin Padangalai (“At the feet of Jesus”). Sung in Tamil, the Karnatic–based work is an interesting and provoking mix which presents a Christian concept through a Hindu dance style.

Recently returned from an exchange visit to Berlin’’s Goethe Instituut, Robyn Orlin presented the highly dramatic and extremely clever downscaling/scalingdown … a piece for one dancer and three dresses. Also involved are two lighting operators who are equally a part of the performance as they skilfully move their portable spotlights around the huge, elegant figure from its first appearance in a long ball gown of red crushed velvet.

Closing the programme was a work by Esther Nasser, director of the State Theatre Dance Company. Titled Against the Gate – a woman’s journey towards herself it represents two kinds of intimate relationships. After dealing with jiggling saucepans and a threatening table, the woman leaves her male companion to link up with another woman where the emotions become less jarred and more calm. The use of water is highly skilful, creating electrifying visual images in a very sensual bath scene which is set to powerful choral music.

All credit is due to the Playhouse, Transnet and co-ordinators for producing an exciting and provocative programme of dance.


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