By BRUCE DENNILL
Geneva Ballet High Five: Choreographic Encounters / Choreographers: Gregory Maqoma, Nathaniel Marie, Mamela Nyamza, PJ Sabbagha, Fana Tshabalala / Soweto Theatre
Before the High Five pieces were even staged, the vision behind the collaborations between the dancers of the Geneva Ballet and their local counterparts and choreographers from both countries made the project worthwhile.
The idea was to make the most of the former group’s availability as a result of their being in South Africa to perform Romeo & Juliette with the Geneva Ballet and to offer their skills and ideas to Johannesburg-based colleagues, with each of the five choreographers – Gregory Maqoma, Nathaniel Marie, Mamela Nyamza, PJ Sabbagha and Fana Tshabalala – meeting their mixed group of dancers on the Monday and having only that week to whip them into shape for four weekend performances.
Regardless of the quality of what was produced, this programme had the effect of stimulating a great deal of creativity and camaraderie, not to mention productivity and focus – all positives in an area of the arts world where discipline is often the centre of every day, leaving limited space for the joy evident in the dancers involved here when they appeared together at the end of the evening for their collective curtain call.
Geneva Ballet’s Marie (as choreographer and ensemble member) kicked off the evening with a piece that switched abruptly in mood from an intense, confrontational interaction to a light, singalong movement build around Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, played live onstage by Marie.
Sabbagha’s piece was far edgier, involving choking, high heels and a leopard-print onesie (and that was a single dancer!) and a trio of hoodie-clad dancers doing staccato urban moves. It also contained one of the few hints that these routines had not been polished for months when one of the Geneva dancers nearly failed to complete a flip before calmly catching herself and moving on.
Tshabalala’s piece included the work of Thulani Chauke, whose ability to make short, sharp transfers of weight with incredible precision made him a standout talent on a stage packed with flair and aptitude, before Nyamza’s piece had the audience – which included a contingent of school children – alternately shifting awkwardly and howling with laughter as her dancers played out some risqué scenarios.
Maqoma’s piece closed the evening relatively calmly – interestingly, three of the preceding four slots had included fight sequences – without the benefit of his presence, as he was abroad performing himself. Given the layout of the Blue venue at the Soweto Theatre, it was possible, for all the other performances, to see the choreographers as they set cues on computers and laughed or grimaced as their dancers followed instruction – or added flourishes of their own,
High Five was proof that high-level creativity and performance is more about enthusiasm and hard work than it is about politics, structures and administration. For that reason, it was a hugely encouraging initiative, and hopefully the example for dozens – hell, hundreds – of similar international partnerships to come.