By BRUCE DENNILL
Oakfields College Faculty Of Dance And Musical Theatre Third Year Showcase 2018 / Directed by Sharon Spiegel-Wagner / Oakfields College Pretoria Campus
For any lover of the arts, discovering a new generation of artists and the potential they have to create or reinterpret existing repertoire is thrilling.The annual showcase for the final-year students of the Oakfields College Faculty Of Dance And Musical Theatre is one platform on which such youngsters can display their abilities to an audience that includes agents, producers, casting directors and other industry professionals. The programme for the event is designed with those experts in mind, with an extra column in which notes can be taken alongside the actors’, singers’ and dancers’ names and the titles of the pieces they’re performing.
Watching these students was interesting for a number of reasons – before their talents were even shown off. As teens and early twenty-somethings, their collective frame of reference is often different to many older observers, so they play a perhaps unexpected teaching role to their audience. Equally, where they performed scenes and segments from work with a more extended heritage, their commitment to its demands and fresh perspectives on dialogue and lyrics gave a lift to work sometimes made relatively stale by repetition elsewhere.
The 12 students, sometimes collaborating and otherwise performing solo (accompanied by musical director Charmaine Naude), presented 25 different numbers in a show that was unfailingly entertaining, not least because of the variety – drama, comedy, dance, singing and monologues, with work taken from stage musicals, plays (in English and Afrikaans) and even streaming television shows (anyone who says they foresaw an excerpt from Black Mirror making it into this programme would bave been lying).
Many of the Oakfields teachers may not have started their careers with the world of Netflix and its potentially untold opportunities as an option, and this was perhaps a consideration when noting the relative quality of the singing versus the acting and dancing in the showcase (with there being a great deal more drama or comedy series in work in that sphere than there are, say, new musicals). There is certainly work to be done in the authority in the top range of almost all of these students’ vocals, though they sounded great when singing together and will manage well enough in ensembles.
Other than that slight shortfall, the combination of natural talent, good teaching and a smart choice of pieces to perform (confirmed in conjunction with a panel of the college’s lecturers in order to help determine the best fit for each student’s skill-set and to help guarantee the smooth flow of the showcase as a whole) made for an enjoyable and often exhilarating couple of hours’ watching.
A couple of performers made particularly strong cases for entry into the professional ranks sooner rather than later.
Bradley Hartmann, a dance major, displayed a high level of confidence with and aptitude for everything asked of him, from taking the lead in a collection of dance solos to providing sensitive and compelling support to his classmates in everything from a duet (in English) to a brutal passage from Ek, Anna Van Wyk (in Afrikaans, alongside a brave, persuasive Takita Mestre) and a cameo as a thick-as-bricks jock in a delightful segment from Toxic Avengers, anchored by Mari-Claire Van Heerden (who has excellent comic timing).
Lara Kleynhans was another standout entertainer, choosing particularly difficult pieces, packed with particularly dense dialogue and complex lyrics, and delivering them with wonderful verve and colour.
Another highlight of the showcase was a whole was Dezlenne Ulster-Weale’s frankly bonkers take on Over The Moon from Rent, in which the actress wholly – and hilariously – gave herself over to the surreal demands of the script.
Sharon Spiegel-Wagner’s smart, snappy direction added a pleasing extra layer to proceedings. This included getting the hard-working backstage crew (first- and second-year students from the same faculty) to create quirky little narratives of their own between scenes, and ensuring that, without fail, exits, entrances, costume changes and all the rest were completed cleanly and with minimum fuss, giving the showcase the same polished sheen as a professional theatre production.
This was an event that suggested great promise in terms of the next generation of South African performers but also underlined the joy and aspirational power awakened by both presenting and watching funny, moving and thought-provoking work.