Last week saw the staging of the very first Cape Town International Dance Festival at the Artscape Theatre and various locations in the Guglethu Township. This festival is the brainchild of Ikapa directors Theo Ndindwa and Tanya Arshamian and it’s an exciting initiative that serves to display the talented artists of South Africa as well as expose them and audiences to a variety of international companies. Each day of the festival has a different line-up of workshops and performances from these various companies, many of which performed one piece of their repertoire at the Gala Opening on Saturday evening.
The Gala performance showcases the depth of talent across the board; there isn’t one dancer who doesn’t deserve to be on that international stage. The male dancers of the Cape Dance Academy in particular stand out amongst the South African companies for their physical strength, clean lines and vibrant energy, all of which are highlighted by their sharp synchronicity. They perform ‘Blue’, choreographed by Christopher L. Huggins. It’s a well-crafted work, and although it digresses in the third section, it’s thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.
The young dancers and graduates of Cape Town City Ballet, including Natalie King and Portia Keitzman, dazzle with a beautifully clean and composed ‘Blue Danube’. The male dancers are particularly impressive with their almost faultless unison. Meanwhile, the movement vocabulary of the duets presented by Jazzart and Ikapa demonstrate a uniquely South African flavour. Choreographically, however, both duets lack the development of concept that is seen in works such as ‘Wanha’ performed by the Finnish Pori Dance Company. This duet displays how effective and delightful simplicity and repetition can be. Constructed in such a way that a quirky hand gesture can evoke laughter at one moment and sorrow at another, it is a truly memorable choreography. It is expertly performed by Mikko Lampinen and Riku Lehtopolku whose characterisation is embodied physically as well as facially, drawing the audience into every movement and emotion as the piece journeys to its poignant end.
This type of engagement is unfortunately lacking in the performance of ‘Observatory’ by the New York City-based Battery Dance Company. The dancers are superbly trained, performing the intricate and challenging partner work with ease and grace, yet there seems to be an edge of hesitancy throughout the piece. On the other hand, there is nothing hesitant about Jin Xing Dance Theatre’s ‘Black & Red’. It starts with the flash of a red Chinese fan and doesn’t let you breathe until the end, which whips to a close far too quickly, leaving you longing for more of the phenomenal whirlwind of fan work, more of the militaristic footwork and sharp lines – just more. The commitment, energy and precision of every dancer is outstanding, making it the climax of the night and one of the best works I’ve seen performed on the Artscape stage.
If this is the standard of work being performed in the first year of this festival, I’m excited to see the levels it will reach in the years to come and the influence it will have in including South Africa in the international discourse of dance and the arts.
The Gala Opening of the Cape Town International Dance Festival took place on 28 November 2015 at the Artscape Theatre Centre. The Festival runs until l6 December at the Artscape and various venues in Gugulethu Township.