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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

WALKING LIKE AN AFRICAN (article first published : 2004-06-8)

Walking Like An African is Flatfoot Dance Company's response to ten years of democracy. The season of three new challenging contemporary dance works invites audiences to re-imagine themselves “as children of the South; our traditions, our layered histories, our ability to walk with grace and care on this African soil; and cynically questions whether the African renaissance includes driving a 4 x 4.” The award-winnning choreographers featured are Flatfoot’s artistic director Lliane Loots with Musa Hlatshwayo and Sbonakaliso Ndaba.

Continuing to impress, Musa Hlatshwayo offered Imbokodo - The Tribe of She into which he has woven his memories of the women who have influenced his upbringing as a young urban Zulu man. Showcasing the company’s skills, it is performed to the repetitive sounds of chanting and singing. His dancers wear an eclectic mix of tribal and contemporary outfits while Zulu pots, straw mats and grass skirts give reference to Musa’s roots. However. the work became locked into its soundtrack, as it were, and needed more changes of style – even silence – to hold our attention.

Set in three dramatic strips of light – confining the performers within boundaries on the edge of which they teeter with fear or trepidation, the thought-provoking they have not wept, the men of my country, teams Lliane Loots again with talented performer/writers Iain Robinson and Quincy Fynn. The work explores masculinity in a historical South African environment. It’s hard hitting – those sensitive to strong language take note – but Iain Robinson, Quincy Fynn and Musa Hlatshwayo give good performances as three males of differing backgrounds and character. Behind them, in the shadows, three women move, almost not being there. After the dialogue sequences, the focus turns more towards movement and this is where I ask the question: Where does dance/movement stop and dramatic narrative begin? To me, the work is composed of two clear pieces: an acting sequence followed by a section of dance and I would have preferred the two to have been more intertwined.

My honours for the evening go to Sbonakaliso Ndaba, working in the Flatfoot season as guest choreographer from her award-winning Phenduka Dance Theatre. In Disconnect she asks: “If we occupy a part of the universe, why do we disconnect from it and from the other souls that inhabit the same universe, the very same Earth?” Disconnect is about interpersonal connection and with her sweeping choice of music, she produced an evocative and stirring work. The men are aggressive, the women avert their eyes. A mere look sparks off a response; a slight lift of the hand creates the impetus for a stronger move in another.

For me, the one dancer who stood out from the rest was Thulile Bhengu. She brought a steely energy to all three works, particularly Imbokodo - The Tribe of She. Strong-featured and focused, she commands your attention from start to finish.

Like all new works, the three pieces tend to err on over-exploration but this will no doubt be corrected as they grow. Credit to lighting designers Mark Kleinert, Wesley Maherry and Clare Craighead and to the latter for her sound design for Imbokodo - The Tribe of She.

Walking Like an African runs in the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from June 8 to 13 at 19h30. Book at Computicket or tickets available each evening at the Sneddon box office 40 minutes before the show. Tickets R45 (R30 pensioners, students and scholars) with block bookings R30 per seat (more than 10 seats): - Caroline Smart




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