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FREEBIRDS (article first published : 2002-06-30)

Director Roel Twijnstra, musical director and composer Jerry Pooe and librettist Kees van Loenen have created an exciting piece of multi-media theatre in Freebirds. Combined with choreography by Jolanda Spoel and Ruben Solognier with fascinating visuals by VDJ Geert Mul, Freebirds is a collaborative effort between the Netherlands-based Het Waterhuis in Rotterdam, Durban’s Eager Artists, the Theaterschool HKA in Amsterdam and the drama department of the Pretoria Technikon.

Jerry Pooe, who heads Eager Artists, has long been an innovative theatre producer in KZN. He has forged many links overseas including a partnership with the University of Buffalo where the Eager Artists company perform every year. Freebirds is his biggest collaborative triumph to date.

Performed in the open air on the lawn behind the Drostdy Arch at the National Arts Festival at 17h30 when it has already begun to get dark, the audience braves it out with provided blankets under the protection of an awning as the evening chill sets in.

However, any preoccupation with the cold is soon dispelled as Freebirds starts to weave its magic. There are four tall tents on top of which perch fantastical birdlike creatures beckoning to the audience to enter the performance area.

Durban actor Mnatha Vika from Eager Artists puts in a strong and suitably aggressive performance as the man who believes he is invincible. Sleeping around and prone to violence he refuses to accept that his sexual lifestyle plays with fire. The production has a strong anti-AIDS message and the dialogue – particularly from a nicely played “seen-it-all” Javier Lópes Piñón – is a no-holds barred diatribe against unsafe sexual practice and those who reject HIV/AIDS sufferers when they most need comfort.

White-clad figures appear out of the mist like avenging ancestors – both to call, entice and reprimand the living. Invariably placed on platforms next to the large screens which depict Geert Mul’s explosive images, are a guitarist and saxophonist. The latter offers a particularly memorable accompaniment to the ode to a dying man.

The clear pure voice of Natalie Edwardes lent a stirring dimension to a song of warning while Samora Bergtop’s coaxings from ground and top tent level reached to the core of the senses.

Freebirds will have three performances in Durban on July 5, 6 and 7 at Curries Fountain. See it if you can – at least it will be warmer in Durban!! – Caroline Smart




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