ArtSpoken & Reviews

Dance Umbrella: Triple Bill

Robyn Sassen
03/01/2012 19:54:17

My View by Robyn Sassen: A potentially insanely interesting triple bill turns out to be a bit of an anti-climax.

As I walked into the foyer of Dance Umbrella earlier this week, I heard a strange keening. It intrigued me. It came from a person of indeterminate gender sitting on the staircase, face astonishingly white, hair a pointed series of orange catastrophes.

Another person was applying make up, crouched as he was seemingly in his own world, mirror and make up kit focused on his creation of big black arched eyebrows, amongst other things. These guerrilla performers immediately unnerved me in the exact way that I need to be unnerved in contemporary dance. I looked at the rest of the assembled ostensible audience in the foyer with narrowed eyes: who was performer, who performee… were they all a series of plants and was I alone the outsider in the audience?

A couple, speaking with heads so close they could only have been in cahoots, he tall, thin, close shaven, she, something synonymous with Magenta, the maid in the Rocky Horror Show, appeared to materialise on the scene. They approached an unsuspecting person, uncrossed her legs for her, and adorned her with an evil looking scarf of fur. Then they looked sinisterly at me! I wanted to scream and run, but sidled away inconspicuously and quickly. The keening one and the make up applying other were, indeed, not alone!

This opening to the Dance Umbrella’s first triple bill terrified, challenged and delighted me, and I was indeed, sorry to discover the rest of the audience, weird though they seemed, were dinkum audience members. And thus the doors to the auditorium opened...

This wonderful start to the evening was, however, not carried through with as much charisma and fire as I’d hoped. First up was “Canvas”, a work by a Cape Town company called Darkroom Contemporary. Promising a kaleidoscopic, surreal exploration of disparate things, the work disappointed in that the disparateness was not clear, neither the kaleidoscope. What we had, instead was a live graffiti artist, a la Rolf Harris, making and unmaking a cityscape on a canvas tied to the backdrop. The choreography was soft and easy to cast one’s eye beyond to watch the painting being made, and the transitions between dance gestures felt forced. Ultimately, the work took on a tone that was more apocalyptic than visual, but remained vague and unthreatening simultaneously. The only area of tension in this piece was watching graffito Imraan complete the work in the allotted time.

Next up was Alan Parker’s "Cellardoor", the more comprehensive manifestation of what guerrilla performers were doing in the foyer. Premised on the statement that medieval linguist JRR Tolkien had made in 1955 about the words ‘cellar’ and ‘door’ encapsulating beauty not through meaning but through sound alone, the work consisted of several vignettes, engaging differently with the notion of beauty through gender, through gesture, through word and through costume. Reeling from the scary effects of the guerrillas in the foyer, I found this part of the work lacking cohesion, even though the costume donned by Jen Schneeberger, making her look something like a cross between Michael Habeck’s interpretation of Berengar in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1986 Name of the Rose, and a painting from the 17th century, was totally fantastic. The character embodied by Gavin Krastin, working to a lip synch of Christina Aguilera’s “I am beautiful”, which eventually finds him naked and in the pose of an Italian Renaissance sculpture, is, too, beautiful, but as a work, it needs more growth before it can hang together convincingly.

Third up was “Inter.Fear”, a collaboration between Athena Mazarakis and Berlin-based Hansel Nezza, with the promise of it being an essay on fear. It begins with the two performers running a clear circuit between a bunch of upstanding poles on stage. Again and again. You lean forward in disbelief at their evident extreme physical fitness. You can’t even hear them breathing or see exhaustion sketched on their impartial faces. They run. They run. She in a tennis dress with a white hoodie. He in a sports jacket, a tie and trousers.

And then they stop, and therewith comes an explanation of what happens to the body in a state of fear. Ping pong balls illustrate the ebb and flow of hormones. A red light punctures it all, and supremely beautiful dancing holds it together, but the narrative of the piece is unsatisfying, leaving red herrings in its wake. You’re set up for a story but things slip into simply fabulous movement and then stop. And the dancers bow, and all too soon, you’re driving home again.

“Canvas”, was choreographed by Louise Coetzer with music by The Knife, Fever Ray and Laurie Anderson and it is performed by dancers associated with Darkroom Contemporary (Cape Town): Kristy Brown, Louise Coetzer, Cilna Marais, Tamryn Pelser, Mandla Sibeko and Shaun Smith, accompanied by graffito Imraan. It was performed at the Dance Factory, Newtown, February 24 and 25.

“Cellardoor” was choreographed by Alan Parker in collaboration with the cast. It was designed by Gavin Krastin with vocal score by Jen Schneeberger and sound by Shaun Acker and Christina Aguilera. It was performed by Juanita Finestone-Praeg, Gavin Krastin, Alan Parker and Jen Schneeberger, at the Dance Factory, Newtown, February 24 and 25.

“Inter.Fear” was choreographed and performed by Athena Mazarakis and Hansel Nezza, and designed by Jenni-Lee Crewe (production), Liannalull and Hansel Nezza (music) and Barry Strydom (lighting), at the Dance Factory, Newtown, February 24 and 25.

Robyn Sassen
011 023 8160
084 319 7844
Related Event:
Dance Umbrella Africa
Dates: Saturday, 21st March 2020 - Sunday, 29th March 2020