Review: Baxter Dance Festival

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Baxter Dance FestivalThe Baxter Dance Festival is now in its 13th year of providing a platform for South African companies, studio’s and upcoming choreographers. Each day of the festival features a different selection of works. Opening night saw three works by Moving Into Dance Mophatong.

The first piece, My Black is Black, is a very poignant solo choreographed and performed by Sonnyboy Mandla Motau. With intense lighting and jackets hanging from the rafters, it is a visually striking work. Motau gives an impassioned performance that has a constrained, isolated quality with jerky and aggressive outbursts that add a percussive counterpoint to the melodic instrumental music.

The other piece choreographed by Motau alongside Rachel Edos is Fight, Flight, Feathers.F***ers, a quartet performed by Muzi Shili, Teboho Letele, Oscar Buthelezi and Eugene Mashiane. Once again, the sophisticated lighting design by Wilhelm Disbergen is masterfully used to create silhouettes and shadows that add an extra dimension to the work. The relentless choreography demands a high level of athleticism from the dancers – who seem to be constantly diving, tumbling, rolling, lifting and throwing both themselves and each other across the stage. The physicality of the dancers does not falter, but the piece could do well with a few more changes in dynamic or intensity. The one change we do get is when the dancers start preening like birds, and it provides a much needed moment of comic relief and links wonderfully to the final nest-like image.

While this powerful image stuck with me, it is Road, a stunning duet choreographed by Buthelezi, that was my highlight for the evening. Danced by Buthelezi himself alongside Shili, Road is the epitome of the effectiveness of simplicity and perfect partnering. The opening sequence has a boneless fluidity as the dancers move around each other in an interchange of energy before coming together in a sensational performance with effortless partnering. The trust demonstrated between the dancers is outstanding, and with awe-inspiring falls and lifts that often come out of nowhere, the audience is left stunned. Beyond the movement and inspired choreography, there a wonderful sense of camaraderie that develops between Buthelezi and Shili.

Moving Into Dance Mophatong is a powerful opening to the festival. It is also a testament to why this platform is so important as it not only provides dancers a chance to perform on stage, but also gives them opportunity to be inspired by companies such MIDM.

Shirley-Anne Bezuidenhout

The Baxter Dance Festival is on at the Baxter from 5 to 14 October 2017.

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