By BRUCE DENNILL
Dance Umbrella: Double Bill / Downstairs Theatre, Wits Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
Sick / Choreographed by Gustin Makgeledisa 4
In-Time / Choreographed by Phumlani Nyanga & Thabo Kobeli 6
Double bills can be fascinating things, particularly when the productions involved are markedly different, thematically and stylistically. Such was the case in this instance, with angst being about the only overlap between Sick, by Taelo Dance Theatre, and In-Time, by Free State Dance Theatre and Phumlani Nyanga.
Sick is, according to the programme, “drawn from researched material based on human trafficking and prostitution.” That’s brutal subject matter to interpret via any means of artistic expression, and with only movement and costumes on offer, the depth of interpretation possible is always likely to be limited. So it proves for this six-dancer cast – four men and two women – who spend more than half of the running time of the work simulating sex acts, often very graphically, with each other, balloons (yes, really) and a large inflatable exercise ball (which happens to be blue, lending itself to another unfortunate sexual allusion).
That it’s all R-rated is not an issue at all – indeed, if nothing else, the relentless sexual violence depicted does communicate the hollow, emotionless power-play that such abuse is – but Sick ultimately fails to deliver because it merely reflects the topic it’s supposed to be examining rather than interrogating it. Rights are abused as much as bodies, that much is evident. But any sensible audience member knew that going in, and the lack of subtlety or insight here adds nothing of significance to the conversation.
In-Time is a more layered proposition to begin with, probing the familiar phenomenon of being trapped by time, and servants to schedules. This is made clear from the offset, with Phumlani Nyanga bringing a tick-tocking metronome onto the stage with him and Thabo Kobeli adding a wall clock to the mix. Both men are superb dancers, with Nyanga in particular exhibiting incredible fluidity. Both are also fit enough to sustain their own challenging choreography without flagging, but thout the intensity of their performance is impressive throughout, the theme, again, runs out of steam towards the end. The frustration of being captive to the clock was made clear – most memorably by Kobeli repeatedly throwing himself against a wall – but the piece’s momentum (though not it’s pace, as already mentioned) failed to pick up further after a certain point, and a five-minute cut to the choreography would not have made much difference in terms of overall impact.
Both pieces were delivered with whole-hearted passion and the surroundings of relatively spartan Downstairs Theatre added to a festival feel that should be indulged more in Johannesburg venues wherever possible.