Dance Review: Dance Celebration – Black Swan – Exploring The Darkness, Or Meaning Through Movement

March 13, 2022

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Dance Celebration: Black Swan / The National School Of The Arts Dance Department / The Dome On Melle, Braamfontein


As a showcase for the choreography of the National School Of The Arts Dance Department, this full production of short original works – there are 33 in all – is expected to more than just entertain. It is examinable work, not only an important part of each student’s year mark, but also an opportunity for both choreographers and dancers to make their mark on the audience in attendance, and to suggest to a waiting industry the likelihood of their being able to flourish after the end of their studies.

There’s no suggestion in the programme notes that students were given a specific theme or two to inspire their creativity (other than the “Black Swan” part of the title – that may have been the case. If it was not, though, it soon becomes evident that if these young artists (their age range must be approximately 16-18 years old) are using the platform afforded by this production to deal with issues they are personally dealing with, then being a teenager is a dark place indeed at the moment, and concerned onlookers should take note. There’s also a possibility that the built-in intensity of darker ideas – actors often say villains are the most fun to play – is an easier hook to begin working with, but a murmuring disquiet sets in early in the show and never leaves. Take these keywords from the explanations behind single pieces, which often appear more than once in the programme: “invasion”, “fear”, “insecurity”, “anxiety”, “death”, “abduction”, “evil”, “judgment”, “broken”, “oppression”, “sexual assault”, “dystopian”, “separation” and “depression”. Encouraging the students to process such ideas and emotions through movement is of course laudable, but here’s hoping that obvious issues are not simply left to lie after the lights come down.

As in any set of examinations, the quality of the work varies, and a number of pieces also employ the same handful of similar moves to support their concepts (perhaps because they’re more reliably likely to come off than something more elaborate or challenging – a fair reason in a high-stakes setting). This has the effect, however, of lessening the individual impact of pieces that collectively appear to come from a similar space – often with similar music providing the score (British rapper Labrinth is a clear favourite).

Many of the standout selections, then, are those that go against this grain. An early highlight is Espionage, choreographed by Jayme Golding and featuring dancers Jade Golding, Cassidy Holman, Reaoleboga Mampati and Tlhopilwe Losaba. It has a pace, look and energy reminiscent of Chicago or Cabaret and is clearly well-rehearsed, with tight, uniform movements matched to an energetic soundtrack. A little later, Other Side (choreographed by Losaba ) is gentler, with a strong ballet influence and the first appearance of dancer Thato Molusi immediately notable for his being a male dancer moving beautifully in pointe shoes. Also in the first half – the Grade 11 section – Tai Omae, choreographed by Hatoentle Tema, has some of the look and feel of an Alvin Ailey offering and features the excellent Hloni Makgosi, who combines rhythmic, staccato movements recalling Vincent Mantsoe or Gregory Maqoma with fluidity to be arguably the standout performer on the night. He’s not a large young man, but physical slightness is more than made up for by technical superiority.

After a break, the Grade 12 segment begins well with The 3rd Phase, choreographed by Letlolo Hailey Baloyi. It’s a piece that features plenty of dynamism – lacking in a number of other offerings – and showcases afresh the magnetism of Faahkir Bestman, hugely impressive in previous productions and only adding to his reputation as a dancer here. One of the few pieces with a positive theme, The Voyage Beyond… (choreographed by Gabriel Poulsen) sadly isn’t powerful enough to reset the mood and, immediately following that, It’s Because Of What She Was Wearing (choreographed by Kefentse Keshy as a comment on rape) makes only a superficial statement about what could have been a more powerfully handled theme. Later, the more lyrical You And Only You (choreographed by Fortune Barnard), featuring soloist Faiz Dalman on stage helps to settle the emotions somewhat.

In all, Dance Celebration: Black Swan both celebrates the efforts of earnest, hardworking young dancers and, in some cases, shows the scope of the work to be done to get to the standard most will be aiming for if seeking to make a living from their art. Maturity cannot, of course, be rushed or faked, and it will be interesting to set these works against the dancers’ future output to see how they grow and develop both physically and in terms of their ability to deliver strong, lucid messages through movement.

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