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Cape Dance Company raises the Bar(re)

Fiona Gordon: The Cape Dance Company presents their annual season at the Masque Theatre with great success.

Regular patrons at the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown might have noticed a particular, and large, hole in this year’s programme. For the first time in 16 Years, Debbie Turner is not taking her Cape Dance Company, or the students of the affiliated Cape Academy of Performing Arts, on their annual pilgrimage to the makeshift stages on which many of them have learned and honed their craft over the years.

Their reputation has grown in Grahamstown, and last year they presented 4 productions, performing to often-full houses – an accomplishment in itself with the fight for audience attention that accompanies the presentation of performances on a festival platform. But one can perhaps understand the need for a break.

Usually used as a pre-Grahamstown showcase, the Cape Dance Company annual season at Muizenberg’s Masque Theatre has become a good gauge of where the company is at, and this year’s season stands head-and-shoulders above their offerings of previous years.

There are four pieces on the programme – an exquisite duet choreographed by Turner herself; two very different, but equally fantastic pieces showcasing the expertise of resident choreographer Michelle Reid, and a new work featuring the whole company, choreographed on them by South African-born internationally-renowned dancer/choreographer David Krugel.

There is never really any question that the dancers are strong. There may be a slightly blurry detail here and there if one nit-picks, but for the most part they are consistently presented to their audiences as polished, precise and professional, and in works which show off their skills to the maximum.

Strength and flexibility combine for an emphasis on extension which, increasingly, allows for diversity of movement expression; but this production really does seem to bring to bear a rarely-achieved symbiosis, with the choreography and dancers doing equal justice to one another’s beauty.

The combination of Henk Opperman’s dance proficiency and dramatic presence draws the eye easily. He is an excellent partner to the exquisite Alice Godfrey in the opening duet, “Love Always’ and is seen in a completely different light as the lead in Michelle Reid’s quirky ‘Us Travellers’. Cara-May Marcus demands her share of the limelight in this piece, jostling for audience attention even until the last slice of stage is hidden from view; but also shows the maturity of her artistry in Reid’s latest piece, where she shares the stage with founding CDC member Louisa Talbot and former member of Jazzart Dance Theatre, Grant van Ster, in a most poignant expression of ‘God’s Waiting Room’, to Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’.

The second act brings the company of ten to the stage for David Krugel’s ‘The Nature of Being’. ‘Rite of Spring’ meets ‘Swan Lake’ in this other-worldly, but primal celebration of form – of limbs and the moving body –sometimes so fluid the movement lines are visible. Even in this small theatre, lighting effects are employed to great success speaking strongly to the influence of Krugel’s work with Nederlandse Dans Theater. Van Ster and Talbot mesmerise in a duet performed with sensitivity indicative of their experience. Focuses shift from the individuals seen as a group, to the group moving as an almost amorphous but cohesive whole, with beautiful tensions created – between detail and the overall picture, the individual and the group, gravity and suspension; even as the ‘naked look’ bodies surreptitiously don one-clothing-piece costumes in rich colours.

A rare treat, the entire performance kept me breathless, on the edge of my seat. Having raised their own bar, it seems inevitable that we can look forward to a future of new heights from this company.

The Cape Dance Company performances run at the Masque Theatre in Muizenberg until 18 June 2011. Tickets cost from R65 and R75 and all bookings are via 021 788 1898 with special offers available for Masque Theatre members.

Fiona Gordon

Poetry in Motion 2

Fiona Gordon: After a successful season last year, underwritten by the Poetry Lifestyle Stores, Cape Town City Ballet presents Poetry in Motion 2.

Using the spoken word as the basis of its inspiration, Cape Town City Ballet and guest artists present an entertaining series of vignettes. This season is based on the first, with slight changes in the offering – some pieces excluded, and some new ones included – and remains a delightful smorgasbord which can be appreciated by ballet-fanatics and -novices, alike.

From Veronica Paeper’s ‘Gypsy Vans’ to Erica Brumage’s fun-filled take on the sixties song ‘Poetry in Motion’, a range of musical, choreographic and dance styles are represented. Aviva Pelham lends her velvet voice and panache to the proceedings, with the presence of the ‘muse’ (Laura Bosenberg) woven throughout, and viola-player Natalie Mason making a further contribution as the on-stage musician in many of the numbers.

Two sensitive duets – How Do I Love Thee (Veronica Paeper) and Between Silence (Erica Brumage) – both costumed in full unitards, show off choreographically-emphasised limb lines, and remain a favourite on the programme. Dancers of the Cape Junior Ballet make an appearance in La Luna (choreographed by Kirsten Isenberg), also with a strong visual emphasis on line in their movement – something which these accomplished youngsters achieve with polish.

Adele Blank’s trios are sadly missing this time around, but the programme benefits from the inclusion of a number of high-energy Irish items choreographed by Lindy Raizenberg, with slick footwork and pattern formation of a different sort appreciated by the audience. A challenging but beautiful grande pas de deux, Walpurgishnacht, is staged by Liane Lurie and brings the programme to an appropriate close before a jovial Finale to the music of Sterling Electric Quartet.

The natural attrition of time has meant different choices, and therefore changes, have been made to the casting. Recent times have seen an increase in the number of (competent) male dancers, resulting in a new-found prowess demonstrated in a number of pieces, most particularly in Robin van Wyk’s newest work, Girl of Temptation, which features some interesting images – the result of shifting perspectives on partner work.

This season is presented too soon after the previous one for comparisons not to be made – the most obvious and significant difference being in the staging. The exclusion of the use of projections in a number of pieces means an unfortunate marked difference in the quality of the production, from piece to piece. The use of a more extensive set for Girl of Temptation also contributes significantly to the theatrical representation of the piece, while Erica Brumage’s Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town (based on the poem by ee cummings) uses very little constructed set, but a palette of costumes and props that perform an equal function most successfully.

Poetry in Motion 2 plays at the Artscape Opera House until 6 April 2010. Tickets can be booked through Computicket.

There will be a Gala Performance at the Artscape Opera House on 9 April 2010 at 8pm, in aid of the Adeline Genee International Ballet Competition, which will be held for the first time in South Africa, in Cape Town in October 2011. ‘Dance in the City’ will feature the Cape Town City Ballet, the Cape Junior Ballet, the Cape Dance Company, the Cape Dance Academy, and Dance for All. Tickets are R100 throughout and can be booked through Computicket.

Fiona Gordon

Cirque du Soleil a visual feast

Fiona Gordon: As we grow up and learn to be in the ‘real’ world, moments that reconnect us with the magic that is childhood amazement are to be cherished.

Experiencing the phenomenon that is Cirque du Soleil is one such occasion. Here not the sawdust and smells of the circus of my childhood, but certainly the magic of jaw-dropping wonder as these world-class performers make feat after incredible feat look so easy one could almost be tempted to go and try those tricks at home.

Playing on the fantastic, this group of performers of all shapes and sizes are costumed in an array of patterns and colours so bright their mere presence creates a visual spectacle. Appearing against a multi-coloured floor backdrop, characters are brought to life with long noses or shoes and make-up which helps create personalities many times larger than their real-life heights.

Whether vertical or horizontal, on the floor or twenty feet above it, the way these artists move is incredible. Despite their individuality of character, they move absolutely together when required to do so. Whether the movement is rigid or fluid, one almost has to blink to make sure one is not just seeing quadruple, so spot-on is their teamwork. From logic-defying body-bending and -balancing acts to bicycle tricks which give new meaning to ‘look ma – no hands!’, jaw-dropping juggling, and breathtaking trapeze, the ubiquitous clown and a four-fold bungee act; it is the attention to every aspect of the detail that makes this company a global phenomenon.

The stage area is raised and (mostly) round, with extensions around the back and sides to allow for quick and interesting exits and entrances, and a section which houses the ‘music-makers’. The set changes often, necessitated by the various pieces of equipment required, but each metamorphosis is choreographed as a character-filled part of the show, allowing for seamless transitions from one magical act to the next. Even if there is only one character demanding audience attention, there seems to be a ubiquitous presence in support of the main performer, helping to maintain the magic – even if it’s from the sidelines. With all manner of trapdoors and lights, and a jazzy Balkan soundtrack, the additional effects serve only to enhance, and not upstage, the phenomenal performers – who are sourced from the best around the world and give a performance worthy of their ‘world-class’ label .

By the end, I could probably have joined the performers on stage without too much effort at make-up – I’m sure my face was significantly blue-er, given the amount of time I had been holding my breath! Full marks for this one…

Saltimbanco is presented at the Grand Arena at Grand West, until 3 April 2010, at 8pm nightly with weekend matinees. Tickets are from R272, and are available through Computicket.

Fiona Gordon

Fleur du Cap Awards celebrate Cape Theatre

Fiona Gordon: The Theatre community gathered, in their finest, at Artscape last night to celebrate another successful year on the boards of the Cape’s stages.

After cocktails and canapés, the official proceedings began with a bang, with a phenomenal performance by the Limited Edition drumming kids. Also joining the slick entertainment line-up were the Gugulethu Tenors, Ubuntu B-Boys, and David Kramer and the Breyani Band.

Awards often come with a healthy dose of controversy. The ‘lumping together’ of all aspects of Design being this year’s primary target – although there seems to be an attempt to recognise the particular challenges associated with an event of this nature, and the promise of attention to future amendments. In this celebration of representation, language plays an enormous role in the proceedings, and I remain somewhat surprised at the extent to which the use of Afrikaans persists as a prominent feature in the ceremony, but most impressed by the honest and unpretentious delivery of Ntomboxolo Makhutshi’s ‘drietalig’ acceptance speech.

With the amount of necessary, and lovely, time it takes everyone to thank sponsors Distell and their cast and parents, these events can tend to drag on a little, but not under the baton of Lara Bye, who directs this year’s proceedings. Even technically, the offering seemed up a notch from previous years. Alan Committie sets a positive tone for the event as MC, and does a fabulous job, with the help of Pasella’s Charlene Truter. The ‘recipients’ even seemed to come on board with the focus on efficiency, and while their thank yous tended to be suitably substantial, no-one rambled on for longer than was comfortable, or gushed inappropriately.

The competition was stiff – there were many categories in which I would have been equally pleased had any one of the nominees been able to make that walk into the spotlight. As much as we acknowledge those that get to take the trophies home, it’s equally important to give credence to the quality of work of those who make receiving that coveted time behind the podium a worthy honour indeed.

It is also a time not only to recognise – in both the nominees and recipients – those who have made a particularly quality contribution to specific work presented on the boards in the past year, but also those who have had significant influence in other ways. Thembi Mtshali-Jones sang a Xhosa love song in a moving tribute to those of the community who have passed on in the last year. The Klein Libertas Theatre was recognised for their innovative contributions to the industry. A driving force, at various stages of his life, behind the Market, Baxter and Fugard Theatres and winner of countless awards, Mannie Manim, was recognised with a Lifetime Achievement Award – and in his gracious acceptance, was quick to point out that ”it’s not over yet”.

With the number of times Simon Cooper’s name was mentioned in grateful thanks, it’s clear even from this just one event, that his contribution to the local theatre scene – in many aspects – is both a positive and necessary one. It is of significance that the body of work being produced and presented in his Kalk Bay Theatre, or under the banner of his KBT Productions, is of such quality not only to sustain the off-the-beaten track Theatre itself, but also to make work of a standard which gets the tongues of the country wagging. After highly successful seasons in Cape Town, at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, and recently in Johannesburg, (Best Script) Nicholas Spagnoletti ‘s ‘London Road’ characters, Stella (Ntombi Makhutshi ) and Rosa (Robyn Scott ) have made hearts melt across the country, and so it is both really no surprise and yet a lovely affirmation of their sterling work, that, despite incredible competition, these two ladies were the recipients for the awards for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress, respectively.

The Fleur du Cap judging panel consists of Marianne Thamm, Mariana Malan, Marina Nel, Peter Tromp, Len Ashton, Beverley Brommert, Wayne Muller, Herman van der Westhuizen, Zane Henry, Jill Makram, Denise Bester and Conrad Sidego, the non-voting chairman.

The next ceremony will be held at the Baxter Theatre in March 2012.

Fiona Gordon

Memory of How it Feels

Fiona Gordon: Drawing on elements of myth and folklore from the African continent, love, in relationship, is explored in music, movement and various forms of text.

Each dressed in a muted version of one of the primary colours, three dancer/narrators take turns to share the proverbial spotlight, representing not one, but various characters in this choreographed combination of ‘visual tone poems’, written for the stage by Musical Director Neo Muyanga, and choreographed by Director Ina Wichterich-Mogane.

The small stage area of the Baxter’s Studio Theatre space is raised centrally to form a short, arrow-headed ‘ramp’ which extends visually up one of the aisles. Eight musicians are fitted, like puzzle pieces, in an equal distribution, through the space remaining on the sides, in two almost-orchestra-pits – part of the on-stage action, and yet removed from it.
This combination of African tonalities and western chamber music instruments is successful in adding dimensions to the expression of both, without losing the essence of either.

Together with an exceptional creative team, Muyanga further explores different languages of expression. Spoken text, with the use of conventional and ‘choreographed’ sign language, layer beautifully with the language of the body to tell multiple stories of multiple pasts, for “we are all divine beings on a shared life journey”.

Focussing on the moments of beauty/comedy/tragedy of intersections between people, seeking to make sense of these individually, rather than in terms of an overarching search for narrative clarity, ‘Memory…’ thus gives expression to a truer representation of our human experience than might be depicted by a clear start-to-end narrative structure, the sort to which audiences in a Holly/Bolly/Nolly-wood era have become accustomed.

And in emphasising and exploring the unexpected – notably illustrated in the conclusion, which sees the musicians conducted by a deaf performer – this expression of collective creativity thus positions itself at the forefront, as we attempt to define the direction of the new African oeuvre.

Performed by Chuma Sopotela, Apollo Ntshoko and Andile Vellam; and staged in the Baxter Theatre’s Golden Arrow Studio, Memory of How it Feels will run nightly at 6:30 or 8:15 until 19 March 2011. Tickets are from R120, and are available through the theatre or Computicket.

Fiona Gordon

Richard’s tragedy a design masterpiece

Fiona Gordon: Shakespeare. With three actors. Wow.

William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Richard 111 is presented by AM Productions, in association with the National Arts Festival and the Market Theatre. Directed by Fred Abrahamse;, David Dennis, Marcel Meyer and Anelisa Phewa bring no fewer than 17 characters to life (and, ultimately, death) on this stage.

Blurring the lines between set, costume and prop; this production is nothing short of a design masterpiece. Presented within a tiny stage space, the set design makes use of multiple levels and entrances and doors that open and close – all lit so as to best focus dramatic attention appropriately. Even the floor covering is given detailed attention. To say nothing of the costumes…

These three actors, in their different guises, rattle off Shakespearean English as if it was their mother tongue. Clothed in various types of regalia, sometimes they change so swiftly one could easily be fooled into thinking there were more players – especially because the transformations are so complete. Even the facial structure of the actors seems to morph with the use of masks (sometimes really beyond recognition) as they change characters, and the introduction of puppets brings yet another dimension to this layered production.

In this tale of marriages and murders, things do get a bit complicated as can happen with Shakespeare, but the drama of the storyline of social and political conquests keeps attention focussed. Skilfully harnessing interdisciplinarity in its presentation, it is easy to see why this production has enjoyed the support of audiences across the country.

The Tragedy of Richard III premiered in 2010 at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, and after a run at the Artscape Arena in February (closes 19 Feb), will play to Johannesburg audiences at the Market Theatre, from 15 March to 24 April 2011.

Fiona Gordon

Die Naaimasjien – a faithful friend

Fiona Gordon: After touring the country the award-winning Die Naaimasjien, with Sandra Prinsloo, can be seen at The Fugard in Cape Town.

My family is not Afrikaans. But my mother grew up on a farm, the daughter of a mother who ruled with her hands. She cooked as only a farmer’s wife knows how, more remarkably so without the luxury of electrical heat or refrigeration. Industrious by necessity, she made her own soap, and the constant chugg of her faithful Pfaff sewing machine was as much a part of the farm soundtrack as the tractors and the rooster’s crow. There are still thick cotton sheets in my mother’s linen cupboard that bear the artisan’s initials, of hers.

My mother has a Bernina. A sign of the times, her sheets are initialled by department store tags, but the early hours of many a morning were spent hunched over its whirrrr, as she laboured, as only a mother would, over costume after costume for our school and ballet shows. Her fairy (god)mother wand has seen piles of fabric transformed into ballgowns for many a special occasion. And now, amidst the patter of her grandchildren’s feet, she passes her days patching together histories in fabric form, leaving a different type of stitched signature on the beds and bodies of her offspring and theirs.

On stage last night, I saw my grandmothers. And my mother. And myself, perhaps, in years to come. From the first strains of classical music that come from the ‘wireless’, we remember together the party-line politics and home-made clothes; and I recognise this tale not as the story of one, but the story of many – of personal heritage and mothers’ courage and God, omnipotent. This is a picture of our history, from a particular perspective perhaps – of a time when white was good and straight was right, and the conflict and confusion and principles of apartheid divided people along more than political lines.

Magdaleen shuts the wooden lid on her faithful confidant – precious, closer than a friend – for that last time, as they both prepare to move into their next worlds. Having been privy to her memories, my sense of her loss(es) is so great it moves me to streams of tears. And I can tell from multiple muffled sniffs around me that I am not the only one.

The sensitive use of language earned this play a Fleur du Cap for Best Indigenous Script, and Sandra Prinsloo crafts its expression expertly, justifiably earning two Best Actress awards for her portrayal of the 81-year old ‘tannie’.

Having toured countrywide over the last two years, Die Naaimasjien plays at The Fugard in Cape Town, until 19 February. The play is performed in Afrikaans, with English surtitles. Tickets cost from R90, R110 and R130, and can be booked through The Fugard Theatre, or Computicket. Seating is reserved.

Fiona Gordon

Die Kaptein se Tier

Fiona Gordon: The Fugard presents ‘Die Kaptein se Tier’ – the world premiere of this version of Athol Fugard’s play, translated into Afrikaans by Antjie Krog.

Krog is indeed a master of her craft, fashioning the words and intentions of the playwright most delicately, with detailed attention paid to the subtleties of expression as only a poet could. In a play which explores the use and challenges of language, this script and its articulation underscores the relevance of those themes.

The story, suggested to be autobiographical, is set on a ship in the 1950s, and centres around the protagonist’s relationship with his muse – an incarnation of his mother in her youth. The ‘sea’ surrounding the stage ship is a tangible reminder of the isolation of his journey. Told from the perspectives of younger and older versions of himself, the boundaries between truth and fantasy blur as ‘The Tier’ tries to rewrite history in order to make sense of his own, on the journey to finding his future. Against a background of developing friendships, and music and dancing, this young man comes of age – as he seeks to ‘escape the limitations of his experience’, and learns ‘how to touch another human’.

A stellar list of names is attached to this production, and brings to it the quality of finish that comes from a collection of vast experience. Veteran performer of Fugard’s works, Owen Sejake, plays the ship’s mechanic Donkieman, who accompanies ‘Die Tier’ (Neels van Jaarsveld) on his respective journeys. Graham Weir is the older ‘Writer’, and Erica Wessels plays the muse; directed by Janice Honeyman, with costume and set designed by Dicky Longhurst and lighting designed by Faheem Bardien.

Things have changed a bit at The Fugard since Daniel Galloway took over as General Manager. Purely on a functional level, seating is now reserved, and English surtitles flash above stage, in line with the theatre’s new policies on language accessibility.

Die Kaptein se Tier (The Captain’s Tiger) is presented in conjunction with the Suidoosterfees with the support of Naspers, and runs at The Fugard in Caledon Street, District 6, until 5 February 2011. Tickets cost between R70 and R120, and can be booked through the theatre on 021 461 4554 or www.thefugard.com

Fiona Gordon

Hitched in an old church in Kalk Bay…

Fiona Gordon: When the foundations of the carefully constructed three-tier wedding cake are shaken, disaster is bound to loom…

Metres of lace and mounds of icing, flashing photographers and those all-important two little words… It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

And then what?

And then everyone goes home and they all live happily after…


Wedding Dress Designer Iris Cardiff’s (Alicia McCormick) picture perfect wedding turns into a less-than-pretty-picture where burnt toast and a jet-setting husband Nick (played by a very competent Lloyd Kandlin) threaten to topple the illusion. But when a bizarre turn of events pulls that royal red carpet out from under their feet, and it emerges that things are not as they might have seemed, they are forced to stop and take stock.

Michele Maxwell plays Joanie, a larger-than-life celebrity client-turned-friend and unlikely voice of reason in the madness of misunderstanding that seems to otherwise pervade their life. What with interference from Nick’s blonde bombshell producer (Roxanne Prentice) and tabloid vulture brother (Rory Berry), uptight Iris and her increasingly famous TV naturalist husband need all the help they can get, as they battle through the challenges of their first year of ‘wedded bliss’.

The beauty of a theatre setting this intimate is that you really do get to see the actors ‘up close and personal’. But the proximity does mean that their ’spotlights’ are less forgiving of any flaws. No worries for McCormick in particular, who pulls off a performance which resonates truth and integrity; utterly believable in her portrayal of a spectrum of (very British) emotions.

Kandlin’s clever set opens and closes as pieces of furniture have multiple uses. Apart from the time taken to change the set between scenes, the production is tight, well worth time and money spent, and an exciting debut for the Hairy Quagga Production Company.

‘Many a truth is told in jest’, the old maxim goes… Here you will laugh. You will recognise some eternal truths perhaps, and ponder upon them if you wish. And you will surely leave – as I did – with the refrain of ‘Love and Marriage’ a soundtrack to your thoughts for days after.

And that is the beauty of theatre.

‘Hitched’ is written by Dr Barbara Whitfield and Paul Tosio, and directed by Tosio. Lighting Design is by Mathew Lewis. Fresh from a run in London, its South African premiere runs at the Kalk Bay Theatre with an all-South African cast, Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8:30pm until 26 February 2011. Doors open at 6pm, and patrons can enjoy a meal before the show. Tickets cost R120 – for bookings, contact 073 220 5430 or www.kbt.co.za

Fiona Gordon

Cape Town Summer

Fiona Gordon: I have seen a lot more theatery-stuff than my online presence of late suggests, but a rather intense job change has seen a shift in routine and focus that has had it’s toll on other areas.

There is nothing like listening to live South African music beneath a setting summer sun to make you feel like you’re on holiday though, and as Cape Town is not short of such events, and the season seems to demand it, I have managed to fit in one or two into stolen time, between soaking up some sun, and Christmas Shopping.

Last year, my family shared a memorable evening of ‘carols by candlelight’ on the Steenberg Estate, led by the soulful voice of Judith Sephuma, in a much more intimate setting than the traditional alternative at Kirstenbosch Gardens.

Another enchanting venue I haven’t frequented much in the last couple of years, but which is so lovely, is the Oude Libertas amphitheatre, in Stellenbosch. With a choice of a spot in the majestic amphitheatre, or more relaxed on the lawn, you really can have your strawberries, and eat them. What a pleasure to experience the latest from saxophonist Shannon Mowday, on stage with an international mix of musicians, including South African icon Dizu Plaatjies. Playing experimental rhythmic compositions of African sounds (picture 2 drummers and a percussionist on stage), juxtaposed with the electronic influence that seems to be making its presence increasingly felt on the music scene, the ubiquitous Apple Mac features an extra ‘instrument’ on stage. Thoroughly relaxed, we stayed long after the strains of the last tune had dissipated, taking pleasure in the beauty of a balmy evening, and a skyfull of stars as seen away from the city lights.

I’ve never been to the Paul Cluver Amphitheatre near Grabouw, but they have a number of gigs on their programme that make the drive look worthwhile.

But there really is nothing like a summer Sunday spent on that expansive Kirstenbosch lawn with a bottle of wine and snacks and good friends, to guarantee good times. The distinctive sounds of Mango Groove are a feature on the soundtracks of many lives, and Claire Johnston looked and sounded every bit like my childhood memories, as they had the crowd on their feet, and ‘keep(ing) on dancing’, as a happy welcome to summer in Cape Town.

Fiona Gordon