By BRUCE DENNILL
NSA Festival of the Arts 2020: Hidden Language / Choreographed by Sean Bovim, Yusuf Thomas, Heather Dreyer, Laura Cameron, Gillian Bonegio, Sunnyboy Mandla Motau, Hannah Dludla, Ashley Magutshwa / Mandela, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
The arts are a great leveller, often able to remove the more divisive elements of our various cultures because those elements are simply superfluous. Dance most often allows movement to stand in for speech, and that is incisively the case in Hidden Language, one of the headline dance productions in this year’s National School Of The Arts Festival of the Arts.
Sean Bovim’s Tanzanite Ten, a neo-classical ballet work first performed in 2007 that interprets the brief fairly broadly, noting that life includes times when teamwork is necessary and others when pairing off or working alone makes more sense. Danced to Karl Jenkins’ magnificently moody, pulsing Palladio, the piece requires its young cast to perform in the relative security of an ensemble (the piece begins with five couples sharing the stage) and in the more focused spotlight of pas de deux. The dancers give an excellent account of themselves in terms of their experience level – there are slight issues with form and timing, but nothing that distracts from the overall impact of the piece.
Heather Dreyer’s contemporary First Light expands the general perspective somewhat, pointing towards interactions that suggested and inspired by nature’s rhythms, including the rising of the sun to announce each new day. Again, the choreography occasionally brings the piece’s cast together to combine during a sequence, and at other times splits them up, allowing for individual expression. Philip Glass’ at once energetic and melancholic Mad Rush is a clever choice of score, underline the shifting mood that make up each of our lives as represented here.
Inhale…Exhale/Spiegel im Spiegel by Yusuf Thomas is a highlight, danced to the gorgeous Spiegel im Spiegel piece for piano and cello by Arvo Part, which gently provides a foundation and rhythm for the choreography while also leaving a great deal of space for an emotional response from both the two dancers and the audience. That light and shade is part of the concept behind the whole piece, which explores – in its costumes, its lighting and the complementary movements of the performance, the give and take required to achieve harmony in any sort of relationship.
The production’s title piece, choreographed by Laura Cameron, provides perhaps the clearest link between dance and communication, asking its cast to express themselves clearly through their movements, whether those be solo or in conjunction with a number of other dancers. Music of varying pace and intensity provides different levels of urgency and it is fascinating to try to discern, through not only the choreography but each performer’s facial expressions and passion, the individual personalities on show.
Comunidad (Community), as suggested by its title, celebrates the power of joining together, with the propulsive energy of the Spanish guitar music of Raul Bonegio and the foot-stomping dynamism of the traditional dance styles choreographed here by Gillian Bonegio infusing the audience with vim and vigour to the extent that they shout out enthusiastically to encourage the dancers.
Listen, with choreography by Moving Into Dance’s Sunnyboy Mandla Motau, makes clever use of lighting and the differing impact of solo performers and larger groups, as well as the interesting effect that density – putting dancers really close together and moving in unison. Motau’s style is very distinctive, and it’s possible to note specific movements that could be recognised as his even if you weren’t aware of his name in the programme.
Throughout this programme, the young NSA dancers were focused and obviously well-drilled, but encouragingly, they also have that distinctive passion for what they do that marks performers who will continue to make a mark.