By BRUCE DENNILL
Mzanzi Ballet: Bengingazi / Directed by Dirk Badenhorst / Pieter Torien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg
Bengingazi is a relatively compact (12 dancers) production that can be, and has been, staged in a number of different contexts – including at a resort in a game reserve. That flexibility is one facet of the vision behind it, which is to highlight both different kinds of dance and the fact that different artistic traditions need not be exclusive. This is a pleasing alternative, in terms of making statements about diversity, to some of the more heavy-handed straight theatre, spoken word or musical options presented elsewhere.
For the Montecasino Theatre run, the Bengingazi cast – ballet dancers Michael Revie, Angela Malan, Aaron Smyth, Angela Revie, Tayla De Bie and Veronica Louw; pantsula dancers Glen Baloyi, Nkosana Modise, Sithembiso Madamo, Silindile Mjoli and Thabang Masipa and flamenco dancer Ndumiso Tafeni – are given the full width of the stage, but without any set other than a differently lit area to signify the place where the pantsula dancers gather and without any props other than the beer crates they use in one routine.
That simplicity is reflected in the plot, which sees two dancers (Michael Revie and Angela Malan meet and embark on an affair. A son (Aaron Smyth) results from the union, and is brought up as a ballet dancer, only meeting his father – involved in the pantsula scene – later, which allows for a merging of the respective choreography ideas.
This storyline, intercut with contemporary slots from De Bie (to a jazzy version of Tainted Love) and Smyth (to Nina Simone’s take on Feeling Good; something of a trademark routine for the Australian dancer) takes up the first act, with the second half of the show being a collage of different choreography. There is flamenco from Tafeni; ballet from Louw, Angela Revie and Smyth; and an original idea from Michael Revie.
Watching experienced pros like Revie and Malan – both principal dancers earlier in their careers – show off not only new skills but also how endurance, skill and passion can be timeless is lovely. Mixing that and the other classical work with the precision and energy of of the pantsula steps and the strength of the dancers who fling themselves around like acrobats when not completing impossibly quick footwork makes for a spectacle that arguably communicates Bengingazi’s message more strongly than the script.
There may, for a particularly dance-illiterate audience, be some confusion with the back and forth between elements, but there is a common, collaborative thread – with choreography overseen by Adele Blank – that ties everything together and makes Bengingazi a worthwhile watch whatever your level of commitment to the dance forms involved.