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RED CRUSHED VELVET (article first published : 2005-10-7)

It is a great pleasure to welcome Grahamstown’s First Physical Theatre to KwaZulu-Natal in what is their first independent tour of the province. They have visited Durban before, of course, as part of the annual Jomba! contemporary dance festival but this is the first time we have seen the company perform a full programme.

First Physical Theatre Company is from Rhodes University and is considered one of South Africa’s foremost innovators of physical theatre. Celebrating three generations of choreography, Red Crushed Velvet received high acclaim at this year’s Grahamstown Festival and features work by Jeannette Ginslov, Gary Gordon and Bailey Snyman performed by a company of nine. It is a well-chosen and varied programme which offers much scope for the undeniable talents of the highly disciplined and versatile performers.

By necessity, dancers obviously focus more on honing their bodies and keeping muscles in trim than in developing their voices. However, these days, they are more frequently expected to speak, call or even sing to create a dramatic context. All-too-often, those who are not trained or well-equipped with vocal skills can sometimes dilute the energy of a production. Not so First Physical. All the performers in Red Crushed Velvet are good actors as well as superb dancers and breeze comfortably across the spectrum of humour, drama, comedy and knockabout.

Tread - subtitled “some misgivings on the inability of man to step quietly on the ground” by First Physical’s artistic director Gary Gordon - sees an ageing and doddery anthropologist searching through text books to find the source material he needs. Behind him figures emerge, barely capable of movement and given to jerks and silent mutterings. As the anthropologist research grows, the figures’ movements change, become more fluid and interactive before moving on to portray aggression and death in a strife-ridden area as a historical marker is reached. While I found this piece too repetitive, it is performed to a fascinating choice of music and the overall concept is very moving where the anthropologist eventually comes face to face with his subject.

Long-term Durban audiences will surely remember Jeanette Ginslov as one of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s drama department luminaries. Now one of South Africa’s most respected choreographers, her piece is titled Part One: Fear and Laughter. Making excellent use of video technology and calling on the power of controlled breathing, she creates movement to the six stories created by the performers which offers a personal insight into their fear and joy.

Bailey Snyman is one of First Physical’s resident performers and his piece Straits deals with memories – “the need to remember, and the choice to forget”. It is said that moving home – and all that it entails - is one of the most stressful experiences a human can experience. It’s about reducing what was your home/nest/refuge/comfort zone into a series of depersonalised packing cases. No character. No life. No “you”. This piece reflected the frustrations, pathos and attendant displacement of the moving experience.

Juanita Finestone-Praeg, First Physical Theatre’s Assistant Artistic Director, created Slow Island, a deliciously quirky piece about a slow loris family originally inspired by Alexis Deacon’s illustrated children’s story. A slow loris (I had to look it up!) is described in the Oxford Dictionary as a small, slow-moving nocturnal primate. Juanita Finestone-Praeg’s choreography offered a great opportunity to prove the company’s very impressive muscle control, matched with strong comedic flair.

After the third piece, there is a short item titled Tee-time. Conceived and performed by Richard Antrobus, it draws heavily on mime and is a highly amusing and entertaining diversion.

Red Crushed Velvet offers schools and public performances in two short KZN seasons. The running time is 75 minutes with no interval. Bookings for schools at the Elizabeth Sneddon through Margie Coppen on 083 251 9412 and for St Anne’s on 033 343 3300.

The Durban run takes place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from October 6 to 9. Performances at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre take place at 10h30 and 20h00 on October 6 and 7, with one performance on October 8 at 20h00 and an early show on October 9 at 14h30. Tickets R50 (R30 concessions). A comprehensive range of merchandise is available from the theatre. Public booking is at Computicket and the ticket price includes a glass of wine.

After the all-too-short Durban season, the company moves to St Anne’s Theatre in Hilton for performances on October 13 and 14. – Caroline Smart




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