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

NAF DANCE (article first published : 2008-05-19)

A strong dramatic vision and narrative thread are features of several dance productions on the main programme of the National Arts Festival (Grahamstown June 26 to July 5 2008).

The seminal novel about a Spanish knight errant inspired the popular ballet, Don Quixote, presented by The South African Ballet Theatre with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Graham Scott. Choreography by Christian Tatchev (after Petipa) and music by Ludwig Minkus makes the most of the dance potential offered by strong characters and colourful ensembles. There’s fun and games aplenty as the dreamy knight stumbles into a village love triangle against a whirl of Spanish favourites, including gypsies and toreadors.

Standard Bank Young Artist Award-winner for dance Dada Masilo interprets another timeless story, Romeo and Juliet, as a showcase for her power as a choreographer and dancer. Her artistic mentor, PJ Sabbagha, assists and her cast includes many of the dancers who helped make Sabbagha’s Macbeth the talk of last year’s Festival. Masilo’s hypnotic performance as Lady Macbeth was one of the great moments of the ten days.

In contrast, the story of Bar Flies is funny, intimate, sad, but also ultimately about love. Choreographer Roslyn Wood-Morris has a trio of South Africa’s best-loved actor/dancer/clowns play three singles in a bar looking for connections: Gerard Bester, Rayzelle Sham and Craig Morris are desperately funny and awesomely physical.

Traditional dance is once again a major feature of the Festival menu. The Eastern Cape Cultural Ensemble is back this year with another gorgeously costumed extravaganza of dance and music with artistic direction by Skin Sipiko and choreography by Daluxolo Papu and Xolani Sibuta. AbaThembu Dance and Music – Umtsholoza wa BaThembu recreates the feast day when the great AbaThembu clan come out in full regalia to celebrate their rich culture. Guests at this umdudo perform traditional dances from a number of other Eastern Cape groups.

More traditional dance celebrations are enacted at The Studio in The Welcoming Dance – Umngqungqo directed by Tina Piek with three Eastern Cape companies. The 15-strong Zwelakhe Cultural Group from Engcobo present their interpretation of umtyintyimbo, choreographed by Grace Joyi. Pondoland’s Impiliso Traditional Group features twelve dynamic women in magnificent tribal dress. The young guns of the Impala Cultural Group prove that Paterson in the Sunday’s River Valley District is a hotbed of performance talent.

Traditional dance from further afield is presented by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) (New Delhi). An evening of Indian dance is an established Festival tradition and this year the focus is on Kathak Indian Classical Dance, a percussive and theatrical dance language relating tales from the great Indian epics. The featured artist is Paramita Maitra, a dance instructor and choreographer who works mainly in Behrampore, Kolkata and Japan.

Two major productions on the main dance programme originate in multi-national collaboration. Skin, by the UK’s Ace Dance and Music company, is a double-bill with guest choreographers Akiko Kitamura (Japan) and Vincent Mantsoe (South Africa) and several South African dancers. Director Gail Parmel and musical director Ian Parmel head up the two different explorations of the common humanity that lies beneath the skin. Ace (Africa/Caribbean/Europe) is known for its accessible, exciting and athletic performances and Skin promises to be no exception.

Ozymandias, a multi-media dance theatre piece, comes out of the working relationship between Grahamstown’s First Physical Theatre Company and the John/Allen Project from New Orleans. Using images and the memories they evoke of South Africa’s struggles and of the devastation of New Orleans, dancers, jazz musicians, filmmakers and theatre designers respond to the inevitability of change. The dancers include John Allen, Gary Gordon, Anna Morris and Acty Tang, a 2007 Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winner.

In Intiem etc, the extraordinary Tossie van Tonder shares another chapter in her biographical journey: the poetry of time and physical change. For her, the body is the only matter that matters, and dance is life. She has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and extensive experience in the field of movement, therapy and the self. Another one-person performance offers festinos an unforgettable 40 minutes with French magus Bernardo Montet, courtesy of the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS). His Batracien, l’après-midi (Amphibian, the Afternoon) is a meditation on memory, transformation and our limits as human beings. A major figure on the international dance scene, Montet grew up in Africa and France and is the director of the Centre Chorégraphique National de Tours.

A second event conceptualised by Montet will see members of the public participate in an eight-hour chain of movement. Keeping Watch in Movement involves two participants at a time. One watches while the other communicates with movement. After ten minutes, the mover leaves, the watcher steps into that role and a new watcher enters the space. Many people have found that being at the Festival is like being part of a theatre piece, and this engaging installation plays into that feeling.

The National Arts Festival is supported by The Eastern Cape Government, Standard Bank, The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, SABC and The National Arts Council. For further information contact 046 603 1103 or visit the website www.nationalartsfestival.co.za

The 34th anniversary of the National Arts Festival Grahamstown takes place from June 26 to July 5 2008. The free Festival Booking Kit is now available from selected Standard Bank branches and Computicket outlets nationwide.

Now in its 34th year, the Festival began in 1974 and has grown to be one of the leading arts festivals in southern Africa. Its objectives are to deliver excellence; encourage innovation and development in the arts by providing a platform for both established and emerging South African artists; create opportunities for collaboration with international artists; and build new audiences.




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