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IKUMKANIKAZI YEKHEPHU: THE SNOW QUEEN (article first published : 2005-07-15)

Directed by Mark Dornford-May, the opera Ikumkanikazi yeKhephu: The Snow Queen was presented on the Main of the National Arts Festival 2005 by the acclaimed performance company, Dimpho Di Kopane, which recently won a prestigious Golden Bear award for their film U-Carmen eKhayelitsha.

The Hans Christian Andersen 2005 Bicentennial Celebration in Denmark commissioned the production by Dimpho Di Kopane (DDK – “combined talents” in Sotho) of this story which was first published in 1844. It has been reinterpreted with a South African theme and includes at least five African languages, traditional Xhosa music and ceremonies as well as original music by Charles Hazlewood.

DDK takes folksongs and changes them to suit their stories but Ikumkanikazi yeKhephu: The Snow Queen also features Swedish songs which have been Africanised. Accompaniment includes marimbas as well as other percussive elements like dustbins and cool drink cans

Many of the performers come from underprivileged backgrounds. As reported in the Festival newspaper, Cue, the performance process is a workshopped progression using improvisation and input from all of the actors. Although there was no script for The Snow Queen, the cast was familiar with the story which provided an initial starting point.

The setting is drab yet functional, a sloping stage surrounded by scaffolding with the sides lined with percussive material ranging from drums to heavy black plastic dustbins. Dressed in black, the cast gathers on stage and their strong performance discipline is apparent from the start.

Costuming is minimal – only the Snow Queen stands out in her outlandish white crinoline and parasol. Towards the end, the singers don light-coloured fake fur or skin coats but otherwise the focus is on the music. If an outdoor background is needed, the sound of birds or night creatures comes from the cast.

The story deals with two young lovers, Kaya and Gida. A mirror is created by Satan to corrupt mankind but an angel smashes it in pieces. The Snow Queen takes a piece of broken mirror and blows it into the eye of Kaya, freezing his heart and making him her prisoner. However the love of Gida and her perseverance to release him makes up the story. At one time, there is a poignant sequence where she climbs the mountains of anger, ignorance, doubt and despair.

There are some excellent voices in this company and their full-blooded harmonies thrill the senses. It is no wonder that DDK has achieved such a high level of international credibility.

The production ran alongside Dimpho Di Kopane’s other piece, Yiimimangaliso: The Mysteries which I wasn’t able to fit in my schedule but was also extremely well received. – Caroline Smart




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