By TAMMY BALLANTYNE
Dance Umbrella 2015 / Double bill: The Architecture of Tears and fight, flight, feathers, f***ers / March 3 and 4, Dance Factory
Images of flight, buoyancy, human bodies airborne, pervaded this double bill at Dance Factory. During Dance Umbrella, we accept that it’s a platform for new work, much of it being performed for the first time and often billed as works in progress. That’s why it’s always a treat to see polished, essentially complete, works, which was the case here.
Opening with Ananda Fuchs’ The Architecture of Tears (performed by her FO8 company from Cape Town), we had a master class in weightlessness and fluid, seamless movement, executed by Grant van Ster and Shaun Oelf. Performed against a backdrop of slides under a microscope (the work is described as being “visually inspired” by 100 Tears photographed Through a Standard Light Microscope), the duo’s technical virtuosity is twinned with a softness and lyricism that is endearing.
Joined by Thabisa Dinga, the trio move through a variety of moods that gather pace before an upbeat finish. The music is carefully chosen and often drives the momentum of each phase. I wasn’t convinced by the connection to the tears and found the visuals at the back unnecessary. Dinga’s “real-ness” worked as a foil to van Ster and Oelf.
Fuchs’ Jazzart background is in evidence and while, one can appreciate strong training (especially that of dancers from the Cape) and great technique, I found the work still too presentational and aware of the audience.
The choreography is clean but too linear; it needs a shift to take it into a completely different space. I wanted some of the incredibly soft landings to be a bit off-centre, not so perfect. I wanted the free fall to end in something less predictable.
fight, flight, feathers, f***ers dispenses with pretty pictures and launches us into the dark side of the planet, into a study of masculinity and men’s responses to their environment. Collaboratively choreographed by Sunnyboy Motau and Rachel Erdos (a guest from Israel), it has been created with Moving Into Dance Mophatong’s (MIDM) Muzi Shili, Teboho Letele, Oscar Buthelezi and Eugene Mashiane.
The work is intelligent, gritty and well-crafted. It is a notable departure in style and theme from MIDM’s repertoire. This is a good thing: it signals freshness and new beginnings. It begins with a single figure in black, alone in a shaft of light, face covered and obscured by a hoody. The image is sinister and disturbing. He is confronted by three others, in smart attire with dog/beast masks hiding their identities who man-handle him and undress him until he looks the same, complete with mask.
These half-men, half-beasts engage in combative confrontations, where issues such as the herd instinct; men’s desire to belong to a group; how conformity is embraced and personal expression is suffocated are thrown into the performance space. These beings test each other through highly-charged solos and duets where we catch glimpses of true identities and then these, like the feathers pulled from Shili’s torso, fly away in the breeze and the individual is herded back into the group, into the sameness of one.
Erdos and Motau have crafted with care – they have the gift of MIDM’s men who can shift gear instantaneously, who hang suspended for moments in the air before crashing to the floor, who segue from aggression into malleability. They have thrown up for consideration the notion of taking and giving power; so pertinent today for us in SA where the violence of men is perpetrated across communities and cultures, where women and children are violated day after day.
Kyle Rossouw’s costumes and Wilhelm Disbergen’s lighting design are integral parts of the whole, completing a well-thought out picture along with Letele’s music compilation.
The work is disturbing, at times frightening and very, very dark. We are left with a poignant image of the foursome linked together by their hands, backs arched, torsos resting on each other while feathers float down from overhead, lit by a single spot. Perhaps signalling that vulnerability and sense of self can be acknowledged, that to be masculine one can be open to touch and intimacy too.