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GRASS GARDENS (article first published : 2003-04-10)

Unfortunately, my work schedule at the moment does not permit me to be able to get to see the repeat season of Grass Gardens. Brought back to the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre by enormous public demand, the production runs from April 10 to 20.

On closely questioning friends and colleagues who have seen the show both times around, I feel confident in repeating my review of the production the first time I saw it – suitably edited to bring it up to date!

In 1998, Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company’s acclaimed resident choreographer David Gouldie produced an award-winning work titled I looked behind and he was drowning. Apart from the incomparable Mary Ann de Wet, the dance piece featured violinist Anton Cawthorne-Blazeby of Landscape Prayers.

This was to be the beginning of a productive relationship between the two creative forces, eventually culminating in the exciting Grass Gardens which features the full FFFDC and the leading group Landscape Prayers.

FFFDC’s artistic director Mark Hawkins has great plans ahead for more collaborations between the two but, for now, Grass Gardens is a must for anyone who is excited about an electrically charged fusion of contemporary dance, fascinating music, stunning lighting and innovative costumes.

First seen as a dominating cube centre stage, David Gouldie and Greg King’s set offers different aspects as it opens and separates. At one stage it hosts a highly dramatic image of a dancer wearing a gigantic and billowing black spangled dress that is pulled away to reveal five figures in stark white who then move through a convoluted dance piece confined in a small area.

Landscape Prayers members Anton Cawthorne-Blazeby (violin), Nibs van der Spuy (acoustic guitar) and Logan Byrne (bass guitar) move in amongst the dancers as they play, becoming an integral part of the choreography. Drummer Bruce Baker has the position of being at the source of the smoke machine so most of the time he is dramatically enveloped in smoke!

The dancers are to be commended for coping with a highly strenuous production and showing no signs of lagging energy. It was good to see the new FFFDC – familiar faces such as Angela Lardant, Ebrahim Medell, Vusi Thabethe, Quinton Ribbonaar and Louise Fraquet joined by newcomers Diani Joubert, Portia Mashigo and Musa Hlatshwayo. Barely out of university, the latter is the youngest member of the group. Disciplined and controlled, he looks as if he’s been with FFFDC, and appearing in demanding programmes such as this, all his life!

Ebrahim Medell has created a neat range of costumes that ranges from the stylish and glamorous to the funky and humorous. Being a dancer himself, he’s made them workable and durable. The opening scene of the second half of the programme was simply stunning.

Always to be relied on to produce a fine lighting design, Michael Broderick has surpassed himself with Grass Gardens. The show is as much a triumph for the show as it is for the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre and its ability to handle a highly technical production.

Grass Gardens at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until May 20. Book at Computicket. More information from 031 209 0142. Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company is supported by the National Arts Council. – Caroline Smart




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