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325,4KG & RONA - REVIEW (article first published : 1999-09-30)

When Shuttle 99, the year-long cultural exchange project between South Africa and the five Nordic countries, draws to a close in October, the influence of its activities will continue for many years to come. As will the memories enjoyed by artists of all disciplines who have been involved with this project and arts lovers who have benefited from public performances, exhibitions and workshops.

Shuttle 99, in association with The Playhouse presented top Finnish choreographer Kenneth Kvarnström and his company in 325,4kg in the Playhouse Drama on September 29 and 30. The South African dance company, Floating Outfit Project (FOP) was invited to present Boyzie Cekwana’s ground-breaking work, Rona, alongside Kvarnström’s work.

Dealing with the latter – and shorter – work first, Boyzie sees his Rona (meaning “us” in Sotho) as a journey that retraces African spiritual roots. “The work is about who we are – and where we have come from,” he explains. The work is slow-moving, controlled and ritualistic. It is beautifully lit with many wide swathes of brilliant white light acting as pathways along which the performers make their “journey” forward in time.

At the start of the work, the choreography keeps the movements of performers Desiré Davids, Thabani Sibisi and Boyzie close to the ground. At one stage the three white clay-covered figures represent the well-known Evolution of Man image with each figure progressively becoming more upright. Boyzie cites cavemen paintings as his reference: “Why did our ancestors have to be so low? Because they were hunters, looking for food and afraid to stand tall above the undergrowth for fear of attack.” The work is also about prayer and the request for spiritual guidance so there is much interplay with hands. The piece ends rather abruptly but, as Boyzie says: “It’s because it’s still going somewhere.” In other words, the journey is still continuing.

Kenneth Kvarnström’s rapid rise to fame in Sweden and Finland in the early 90's as well as a highly successful two-year post as artistic director of the Helsinki City Theatre Dance Company led to him being labelled ‘The Finnish Meteor’. It’s easy to see why. This is a choreographer with a particularly clear vision of what he intends to produce in his work.

325,4kg is so named because it apparently represents the combined weight of dancers Cilla Olsen, Raisa Punkki, Mattias Ekholm and Kai Lähdesmäki. That, in itself, is an example of Kenneth Kvarnström’s underplayed quirky sense of humour. And there is much humour in this hour-long work as well as a breathtaking sense of controlled eloquence which often went off the beat with a surprise movement. At times the four dancers mirrored each other so perfectly it was as if they all thought with one mind and one body - joined at the hip, so to speak.

The set consisted of several oval discs suspended on tight wires and a collection of sculpted hands, placed erratically about the stage but eventually encircled the action. There are also letters which make up words like “erase”, “red” and “random”. The lighting design by Maria Ros was superb and the use of spotlights was highly effective.

325,4kg, which premiered in Stockholm in April this year, is about relationships and, more particularly, about “duets”. As Kenneth Kvarnström explains: “A duet doesn’t necessarily have to be between two people. It can be between two couples. Or three people and one person.” When he originally envisages a work, he writes his notes down in his “black book” then discusses the idea with his dancers, set and lighting designer and anyone else involved. While he encourages a certain amount of flexibility during the early rehearsal process, once the work is completely choreographed it will alter very little.

At one point, three dancers (two men and a woman) are enjoying an easy and light-hearted relationship with much teasing and interaction. Into the scenario comes a second woman who tries to fit in but, unsure of what the others are doing, is only able to do so after a while. This resulted from the real life situation where the dancer who plays the second woman was on tour with another production and only came to rehearse that particular section when the others were quite familiar with it. “I believe in taking from an existing situation and working it into the piece,” says Kenneth.

325,4kgwas certainly one of the finest contemporary choreographic works I have seen in Durban. Thank you, Shuttle 99!


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