Review: Baxter Dance Festival 2014

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Darkroom Contemporary - BlueprintThat South Africa boasts amazing and diverse local talent within the arts and culture scene is widely acknowledged. “What should we expect?” is then the question when the Baxter Theatre Centre calls dance studios, companies, schools and choreographers from across all genres in the Western Cape to perform at the 10th annual Dance Festival – the premier festival of its kind.

Opening night provided a glimpse of the performing ability, creativity, diversity and talent of dancers and choreographers from across the province. Ranging from traditional African dance, to classical dance and from Flamenco to contemporary dance – the full spectrum was presented to a curious crowd.

The two hour programme featured six independent dance groups, each performing for 15 to 20 minutes. Costumes and lighting were kept simple but effective, and the musical score to every piece underlined the mode of dance and set the tone for the performance.

One of the highlights was Blueprint, by Darkroom Contemporary, of which just a section was performed (read our review of the full performance at City Hall a few weeks ago). Another was Salud y Gracias from the two groups Flamenco Del Sur and Tierra Flamenca, a performance dedicated to the iconic Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia, who passed away this year. The exquisite costumes, kept in shades of red and black, the flowers in the dancers’ hair and the passionate Flamenco rhythm, picked up by the iconic hand movements and carried through the body to the tips of the toes of every performer, all contributed towards creating a beautifully coherent, graceful, but fervid show.

But arguably the most emotionally loaded piece of the evening was The Conductors, by the Sibonelo Dance Project. To an audio backdrop which includes excerpts from a speech by Malcolm X contrasting the worlds of “House Negros” and “Field Negros”, the group presented a passionate depiction of the effect of Western influence on African traditions. Dressed in wedding-like Western costumes, two of the dancers, portraying the “House Negros”, separated themselves spatially, and by adopting a more classical choreography, from the rest of the eight traditional dancers, who symbolized the “Field Negros”. The latter kept trying to remain true to their African roots, but were repeatedly restricted by the “Westernised” couple until – overwhelmed and outnumbered – the “House Negros” gave up their attempts to suppress the African traditional dance rhythms and were reabsorbed into the larger group. It was a dramatic and moving story translated into dance, all the more thought-provoking because of its relevance to our own country’s history.

What stood out in every performance of the evening was the exceptional quality and creativity of dance in the Western Cape. Every single performer was disciplined, enthusiastic, well-trained and patently talented. It left me thirsting to see what else is in store at the Baxter over the next week.

The Baxter Dance Festival deserves a huge round of applause for making this event possible, despite its continual lack of funding. This annual event is a wonderful opportunity for professional and amateur dance groups – and seasoned and emerging choreographers – to show off their work on a decent stage, and in front of a large audience. For the general public, being able to witness artists showcasing their work with such sincerity and grace is an immense privilege.

Marie Stinnes

The Baxter Dance Festival 2014 runs 9 to 18 October 2014 at the Baxter Theatre Centre.

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