Dance Review: Dance Spectrum – Reflections, Or Disciplined Dynamism

September 26, 2021

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By BRUCE DENNILL

Dance Spectrum: Reflections // The Dome @ NSA, The National School Of The Arts, Braamfontein

 

The National School of the Arts, through The Dome @ NSA, continues to undermine the notion that theatre is dead, hosting another series of performances in increasingly pleasant circumstances, given the arrival of spring, which makes sitting outdoors on stands, under a couple of spreading trees, a comfortable experience.

Dance Spectrum: Reflections is a showcase on a number of levels – for the growing expertise of the students in the school’s dance department, for the choreography of a number of NSA alumni, and simply as a new piece of work to be enjoyed by dance audiences.

That there are five choreographers – Iain MacDonald, Gillian Bonegio, Tshepo Zasekhaya, Heather Dreyer and Yusuf Thomas – in a show that runs around an hour means that there is a good deal of variety in the various interlinked sequences, though certain threads are maintained to keep continuity. More important (and pleasing in its own right) in that regard is the original score by fellow alumnus Sumeet Sarkar, which is wonderfully emotive, providing peaks and valleys of dark and light for the choreographers and dancers to work with and giving the production as a whole a connected unity that increases the overall impact.

With groups of dancers of different sizes regularly exchanging space on The Dome’s stage with focused soloists, the pace and/or intensity (in the more reflective passages) of the production never dips. There is the mild distraction of a couple of segments that are projected on a large screen behind the stage, but that is unavoidable in that the mood of Sarkar’s music can’t be extended to Bonegio’s Flamenco choreography or a split-screen tap-dance episode, and, from the perspective of the work of the school’s whole department being showcased, such side-steps (ooh, look – a dance pun!) are important.

Understanding the dedication and discipline involved in the learning of particular movements, hitting scores of marks and attaining a level of athleticism that allows for near-constant tightly controlled dancing for an hour makes the important point – to any audience members who have reservations about the relative educational level of dance versus, say, mathematics – that these young learners are teachable, reliable and capable on half a dozen levels; a strong statement in favour of including arts in any curriculum.

None of these young performers is there to make up numbers, either – levels of talent and proficiency range from (at worst) solid, through good (the bulk of the cast), to marked excellence. In the latter class, Faahkir Bestman (Grade 11) and Taylor Pieterson (12) are the notable standouts, both drawing the eye when performing in ensembles and both, through their taut muscular control and awareness of the tone and dynamics of the score, effortlessly holding attention during their respective solos.

There are more spectacular dance shows around, where larger stages and extravagant sets help to create more colourful and powerful visuals, but as a marker for future potential in the professional ranks as well as the collaborative ability to put on a strong, entertaining show while still training, Reflections offers much to applaud and be excited about. And a last note on the way the piece looks: whether intentional or not, the costumes are not designed – as is the case in so many productions where beautiful, muscled performers fill the stage – to actively sexualise the dancers, and this would be a trend worth getting on board with, both because it decreases the inappropriate pressure put on youngsters in this regard and because it allows for the real star of the show to be the outcome of years of graft and craft, rather than simply a well-tanned leg or a narrow waist.

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