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

NEW CLASSICS (article first published : 2008-08-15)

Desiré Davids’ ground-breaking dance fusion piece, New Classics, was first seen at the Playhouse as part of its residency programme in a New Stages premiere season of dance in March this year. Described as a challenging neo-classical work, it was created on five leading Durban-based dancers including Zinhle Gumede who made a major impression on local audiences and reviewers alike in Lungile – The Most Beautiful Girl in the Land, a piece created in 2006 by story-teller and author Gcina Mhlophe and multi-award-winning choreographer, Mark Hawkins.

Also appearing in New Classics are the equally talented and respected Liselle Sproull, Louise Fraquet-Golding and Quinton Ribbonaar as well as Desiré Davids herself who has choreographed the piece to combine elements of contemporary, African and Classical styles. A major section of the production is a moving and compelling pas de deux with Davids and Ribbonaar.

New Classics has been brought back to the Playhouse as part of this year’s South African Women’s Arts Festival – a great relief to me because I missed its season earlier this year.

This is very much a mood piece and Davids has chosen her music well, from the ominous dark rumblings of the opening sequence which had the sound speakers shuddering through African traditional, soaring opera and majestic choral music, to the upbeat Beasty Boy’s The In Sound from Out There of the final section.

Richard Parker’s lighting is superb and his side-lit opening sequence is particularly impressive as Ribbonaar rises from the floor, almost like a new-born praying mantis spreading its legs and feelers and exploring the space.

Space is what New Classics is all about – the space we need as individuals to retain our individuality and the spaces we like to move into, to find companionship, affection and love. Sometimes these spaces turn confrontational - being power or gender driven - but, overall, there’s a strong sense of reliance on the mother figure. A reliance which stands for tenderness and trust. This makes it a good choice for the current festival.

The women interact comfortably with each other but the dynamics change with the presence of the male in their environment. Jealousy raises its head along with submission and the women try to “fly”, to find their identity and personal balance. Davids is a joy to watch and, as always, Louise Fraquet-Golding brings her distinctive grace and style to any dance piece. Liselle Sproull’s dramatic skills come to the fore in an amusing sequence when she flicks her leg to motivate the man’s arm to be placed where she wants it to be on her back or simply gives him a sharp nudge with her hip to topple him and put him in his place. He occasionally includes the audience with a glance that says he doesn’t understand the female psyche!

A wonderful component – and hugely popular with the audience, rightly so – is the inclusion of the 15-strong Mothers of Peace – Omama Boxolo, a group of women from the Ndwedwe region. Well-disciplined in their movements, they wear stunning traditional celebration outfits which they make themselves. The dancers move in and out of their solid ranks, the final moment providing the pièce de resistance as the women all move forward – as they do in life: firmly with determination and in comradeship. Even the man tags along – well, if you can’t beat them, join them!

In the final companionable and cheery sequence, the message from the women to the man seems to say: “I will stand by you and beside you – but not under you!”

New Classics has two more performances in the Playhouse Drama on August 15 and 16 at 19h30. Booking is at Computicket. Well worth a visit – Caroline Smart.




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