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INTERVIEW WITH JAY PATHER (article first published : 2003-04-17)

Take a mix of wild and wacky fashion and top contemporary dance, tie it all together with video art and you have Edge, a combination of work by sharp young minds, meshed together by the talents of Jay Pather, director of Durban's Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre.

I ask Pather, snatching a quick coffee before tonight's opening, how easy it is to blend such disparate elements. "It's why I have so much grey hair," he says. But there's little visible; Pather looks as cool as in his recent stint as the smooth seducer in Isidingo. He explains that he hopes the audience for Edge will see how ideas can be repeated by different disciplines - and how richly textured is the work young South Africans are producing in these three areas.

"I've been very taken by the new work emerging," he says. "It deals with a spread of issues - some political - but not bogged down by political correctness. Ten years down the line, we are seeing wit and comedy without compromising the serious purpose. There's a freshness of approach that may be intellectually complex but is without pretension."

Pather's last major production was Cityscapes which brought dance out of the theatre and into a variety of venues in and around Durban last year. Last month he took it to Johannesburg to open the FNB Dance Umbrella. "We danced in the Johannesburg Art Gallery in Joubert Park - not your average Swan Lake. I didn't know what to expect from the audience, but it was full to capacity. Word is getting around that this is the way to go."

By “this”, Pather means the mixing of art forms and the freedom to perform outside theatres - though Edge is being performed in the Playhouse Drama. "With Cityscapes, I felt that once the walls of the Group Areas fell, other boundaries could fall as well. That was about where dance could be made and seen; Edge is about the boundaries of disciplines. But it's all without holier-than-thou gravitas."

It is this determination to do entertaining and accessible work that saw Pather enjoying his stint on Isidingo. "I'm the same person, and I want to pull in the same audience. It's all part of the same continuum, all connected with the South African psyche," he insists.

Pather is excited about Edge, just one of the projects he has lined up for Siwela Sonke this year. There is a production for the main festival at Grahamstown, and Nightscapes, an extension of Cityscapes with light projections onto buildings. "Durban is ready to reclaim the night," says the former Fulbright scholar who is working hard at keeping his home town on the artistic cutting edge.

Edge will be performed at the Playhouse from April 11 to 13 and 18 to 20 at 19h00 and 15h00 on Sundays. Tickets R25 (R20 concessions) from Computicket or Dial-A-Seat on 031 369 9555. – Margaret von Klemperer




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