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Review: Baxter Dance Festival 2014


The Architecture of TearsThe buzz of the previous week’s performances at the annual Baxter Dance Festival created excitement throughout Cape Town’s dance audience. The second last show of the festival, however, left the audience feeling exhausted. Literally.

This specific main programme line up was incredibly long.  On top of this a number of dramatic set adjustments drastically affected the flow of the evening, a fact which left the audience restless and agitated, with some patrons even leaving the theatre halfway through the show.

Nonetheless there was a lot worth seeing.  The programme included an amusing yet penetrating performance of Mamela Nyamza’s Wena Mamela that had previously been performed in a more intimate venue as part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival.  Whether Wena Mamela can be categorised as dance is arguable – it lies on the boundary of performance art and theatre – but it is fascinating to see how the work of such a renowned local choreographer has evolved. Perhaps though it would have made more sense to have seen Nyamza’s latest choreography separately and not during a whole evening performance.

Other highlights were The Architecture of Tears choreographed by Ananda Fuchs and Company, and this year’s commissioned work, Mode, choreographed by Thalia Laric and Steven van Wyk.

The Architecture of Tears – performed by Grant van Ster, Shaun Oelf and Thabisa Dinga – encapsulates the fluctuation of emotion experienced when weeping. The movement of the trio of dancers is articulate, fluid and continuous.  The whole choreography is an extension of one movement, with flawless partner work, looking at times as if they are moving through honey.  With a bare stage, and images projected on the back screen along with hanging globes of light, their bodies alternate from sharp isolated shapes to lofty, free-flowing choreography. Occasionally it is as if a gush of air is blowing onto the stage accelerating the dancers’ speed like a whirlwind. This is a truly visually innovative performance.

ModeIn contrast, Mode, performed by Underground Dance Theatre, is based on a half-forgotten recollection of dancing in church halls and ballrooms. An intense ambiance is created by dramatic, robust music from the opera King Arthur. They continue to surprise the audience by including soprano Robin Botha on stage amongst the dancers, the live singing adding  a wonderful texture to the piece.

With no emotion or expression, the dancers move through specific and definite steps sneaking in a bit of humour while performing.  Thigh slaps originating from folk dance develop into bum taps. What first resembles Russian folk dancing becomes hip-hop. The vocabulary is technical and distinct, and the theme of breaking away from formality is clear.  The tone advances from stern to playful and from light to sensual and intimate. Half way through, the back curtain is lifted – the increased depth of the stage reflecting the increased boundaries of movement.  And rather than conventional lighting effects where the lights expose the performer, the dancers instead run in and out of the light, again expressing a feeling of new-found freedom.  Mode is yet another creative and clever choreography from Underground Dance Theatre.  That this was the company commissioned to produce a piece specifically for the Baxter Dance Festival serves to underline the fact that Underground Dance Theatre is going places.

Angeliki Theodorou

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


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