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DESERT FLOWERS (article first published : 2004-06-25)

Well-known and popular exponent of Spanish Dance in Durban, Linda Vargas, has taken the bold move of presenting a full-on dance programme with guest artists that marks an admirable change of direction from her usual productions.

The programme that makes up Desert Flowers should really be looked at as two separate entities. The first, Mosaic Flamenco, is a showcase of the Linda Vargas Flamenco Dance Company. The second, Desert Flowers, is a dance drama offering a fusion of dance cultures.

Mosaic Flamenco gets things off to a good start with Juana Vargas performing to a langorous, jazzy piano score which grows in intensity and presentation as the rest of the company gradually move onto the stage to join her. While all acquitted themselves well, I did feel that the male members of the company lacked the steel in the upper torso and arms that is so synonymous with Spanish dance.

That said, the various numbers flow easily from one to the other and lead up to the evening’s highlight, the appearance of Linda Vargas herself. Always a compelling and engaging performer, she introduced some delightfully playful and humorous moments in a sequence that never detracted from the passion of the flamenco. Mosaic Flamenco was dramatically set against black drapes and sand coloured dance matting. The only other visual effects are several decorated highbacked chairs so the focus on the dancers is pure and clear.

No Linda Vargas production would be complete without her highly accomplished guitarist husband, Demi Fernandez, who has arranged an evocative score. He is supported by experienced musos Bruce Baker (Landscape Prayers) and Alan Bowen with Martin Sigamoney joining them for Desert Flowers which introduced a major change of mood with much effective side-lighting. A larger cast included numerous children from the Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company’s Cato Manor Vibe Project and the Patricia MacIntosh School of Ballet.

The programme notes for Desert Flowers state that: “Flamenco, as an art form, is found throughout the world and when ‘discovered’ may seem to many to be an ‘exotic flower’ which appears to be out of place. It has its roots in the centuries of cross-fertilisation of many cultures and their everyday experiences.” Taking the similarity further, the notes go on to say that “many may find themselves in what appears to be a place of little hope, in a ‘desert’ where feelings of desperation seem to overwhelm. Yet the desert flower, with its deep roots springs forth as a reminder of the beauty, life and hope that can be found where there seems to be none.”

Guest artistes in Desert Flowers included Neliswa Rushualang (Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre), Mlekeleli Khuzwayo (Phenduka Dance Theatre), Mlu Zondi and Hlengiwe Ncube.

Strongly featured were Sifiso Majola, Shiksha Rampather (Kumari Shiksha’s Dance Institute) and Louise Fraquet (Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company) who represented traditional African dance, classical Indian styles and ballet respectively. Juanna Vargas represented Spanish dance. I would have liked the introduction of the various dance styles to have been better linked in a dramatic context with the dancers responding to the other as they became exposed to each other’s culture. While I understand that it represented a divided nation, I wasn’t happy that there was a fairly lengthy section in which all four danced about “doing their own thing”. However, I did like the sequence where a movement was interpreted by all four in their own styles.

Dylan Heaton’s lighting is dramatic and effective throughout and the Drama theatre is a good venue for this type of dance production. Linda Vargas should be commended for pursuing a new direction and show is worth seeing for its pure Spanish content as well as the historical sequence. The Linda Vargas company is made up of Linda herself, Juana Vargas, David Romero, Enrique Marin, Fernando Marin, Rocio Maya, Carmela Murley and Toni D’Amant.

Desert Flowers runs in the Playhouse Drama from June 24 to 26 nightly at 19h30, with an extra performance on June 26 at 14h30. Book through Playhouse Dial-A-Seat on 031 369 9444 or Computicket outlets or on Computicket booking line on 011 340 8000. Tickets R55 (R45 pensioners, students and block bookings of ten or more people and the Saturday matinee).

The production has received sponsorship from the National Arts Council. – Caroline Smart




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