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NEW STAGES - DANKIE PITOLI & JUST 4 U (article first published : 2005-03-21)

Dankie Pitoli and Just 4 U, which shared the New Seasons double bill at the weekend, are such different pieces that they make unusual bedmates. Yet the three full-house performances turned out to be an enthusiastically supported treat.

Special credit should go to the Playhouse Company for showcasing S’bonkaliso Ndaba’s Dankie Pitoli soon after it took centre stage at this year’s FNB Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg. It is, after all, by Durban’s Phenduka Dance Theatre company and as this foretaste indicated, it deserves a longer run on home turf.

It is one of Ndaba’s best works and, in keeping with the uncompromising attitude of this significant voice in South African dance, it pulls no punches. It is an unashamedly angry piece that questions emptiness of our hard-won freedom.

One character drags a giant chain, which he repeatedly hurls onto the floor, the relentless noise matched by repetitive images of oppression and submission with staccato writhing, sobbing and shaking. The choreography combines a counterpoint of African tradition and contemporary techniques while the backing sounds, intentionally full volume, range from agonised dialogue to evocative cello music. The cacophony rises to an almost unbearable climax when a solution is finally found for that chain.

Among the eight highly committed dancers, best newcomer award winner Sithembiso Gcabashe is showing stunning assurance and students Vusi Makhanya and Nhlanhla Kunene exemplify the benefits of the company’s training programme.

After this complex masterwork - even the Afrikaans title carried layers of irony - Just 4 U came as frothy light relief. This musical playlet written and directed by Thami Sikhosana, is set in a squatter camp and highlights various no-hopers with quirky names like Pick six and Little-bit - a muti man, a vendor, a street child.

In its mix of anecdotes, comedy and song, the sometimes lavatorial but always human humour works better than the sentimental solutions. But the band backing is as vibrant as the acting and the result is warming theatrical experience.

Performers, with the director, are Sduduzo Kawula, Bheki Khabela, Sifiso Makhanya, Manu Ndlovu and Bhekani Shabalala with music by Mduduzi Mhlobo (bass guitar) Sihle Cele (keyboards), Lucky Thango (drums) and Wanda Zonke on saxophone.

One quibble is that the programme was full of background details but entirely overlooked basic information, like who plays what role. – Lynne Goodman




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