Dance Review: September Suite – A Season Of Celebration, Or Aptitude Announced

September 16, 2023




National School Of The Arts: Dance Spectrum – September Suite / Directed by Mark Hawkins / Lesedi Theatre, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg


A professionally staged showcase for the Dance Department learners from the National School Of The Arts (NSA), September Suite has as an underlying theme reflections on the changing of seasons – of what arrives and what leaves and how each can happen in overlapping or unexpected ways. The cast is made up of dancers who are in Grades 10, 11 and 12 at the NSA, and acknowledging their youth and relative lack of experience makes the unfolding drama of the show even more affecting.

Wilhelm Disbergen’s striking setting – huge strips of white fabric hanging from the ceiling, creating a large semi-circle in which much of the dancing takes place – is lit from the side at stage level, as well as from the flies, meaning dancers entering and exiting the stage must navigate pylons of bulky equipment, often in the dark and while running. It is testament to Mark Hawkins’ steady directorial hand – and the youngsters’ discipline – that the flow is never interrupted, with the suite being one long series of fragments in the Act One of the show and one longer, more connected sequence after the interval.

This format is tremendously entertaining to watch, as there is very little down time for the audience, with dancers in costumes of different colours stepping onto stage as others leave, drawing first the eye and then the ear as the soundtrack changes to suit the new mood and choreography. It also requires a great deal of precise ensemble work – any sloppiness will immediately show up and disturb the form of the collective as a whole – and the cast show admirable concentration, to go along with the considerable physical demands of their roles, to retain the pace and movement needed to vacate the space a colleague needs to fill or to closely follow one another according to where choreographic or lighting design requires them to be.

Multiple types of dance are demonstrated, with classical genres like ballet and Spanish dancing cohabiting happily with a range of more contemporary ideas. There are very few specialists in the cast, with most of the dancers able to perform at a high level no matter what the demands. Interestingly, where young male dancers who are convincingly adept at ballet are usually at a premium, all of the gentlemen involved here exhibit something between excellent potential and remarkable precocious ability. In terms of the latter, Thato Malusi’s apparently effortless extensions regularly catch the eye. And Otsile Lekasapa, still only in Grade 10, displays a fantastic versatility with confidence to match, as demonstrated in a solo piece and a number of featured parts.

Another extraordinary all-rounder is Jodé Golding, who has the mien of a dance captain – never arrogant but always poised, and with conspicuous skills and onstage leadership (whether that is by design or simply a natural outcome). A piece called Water, in which she performs a solo, is one of the production’s highlights, featuring imaginative staging. Tlhopilwe Losaba, tall and statuesque, also impresses in the ballet sequences.

As a means of underlining the effectiveness of the work being done by the NSA’s Dance Department, September Suite is a resounding success. And that remains true when considering it as a standalone production. With the exception of one or two moments where a touch of polish might be applied, it would be difficult for most audiences to discriminate between this and a professional production that happened to have a rather young cast. Factor in that many of these dancers also have schoolbooks backstage as they fit in exam preparation around this production and their collective performance is even more outstanding. Many of these young artists will be gracing our stages for years to come, and that is something to look forward to.