BWW Reviews: Instead of Soaring, Jazzart's BHABHA Crashes and Burns
Jazzart's latest production, BHABHA, represents a low point for the company, after a downward spiral over the past 18 months. Two of their major presentations in the last year, DESTINATION... LERATO and WAITING FOR RAIN were at least curate's eggs, both offering some great dancing even when the concepts that held each respective production together lacked coherence. In contrast, BHABHA, choreographed by Moeketsi Koena and directed by Jackï Job, disappoints on almost every level.
A piece conceived to showcase the talents of the 2014 trainees in the Jazzart Training Programme, BHABHA proposes that the themes of democracy and freedom as its subject matter, while the title points to flight as a central motif. Koena's choreography offers only the broadest engagement with any of these ideas, which are generic enough to begin with. His work feels like nothing more than one combination after another, with not enough variation in style or conceptual development to involve either the mind or soul of the audience. After 75 minutes of mind-numbing repetitiveness, nothing about the nature of democracy or freedom emerges from the piece; none of the dancers - even those who display natural talented and good technique - take flight; and not even an experience that embraces diversity of form, imagery or movement has been achieved. What Job's role in creating BHABHA was, cannot be seen in what appears onstage in the production. A show that should at the very least be taut, slackens exponentially as the show moves from one sequence to the next.
The trainee dancers featured in BHABHA include Katlego Moncho, Lee-Joel Bosman, Lewellyn Afrika, Lusanda Dayimani, Lusindiso Dibela, Nichellé Linnert, Nkosinathi Mngomezulu, Nkemiseng Khena, Tamsyn Spannenberg and Yaseen Manuel. Many of them look disengaged as they perform their combinations, bored dancers delivering boring choreography, particularly when ensemble sequences are performed, where a great deal of work needs to be done to improve unity and specificity. Even when a dance company embraces what is individual about their dancers, as Jazzart does, ensemble work is about dancing together in the space, not competition.
What is perhaps most disappointing about BHABHA as a piece that is conceived to be a showcase is that dancers who showed promise and skill in earlier Jazzart productions appear lost. Spannenberg and Mngomezulu, for example, delivered memorable work in DESTINATION... LERATO, but fade into the background here. Manuel, whose greatest assets in the past have been his strength and presence, appears bewildered by much of the choreography. Moncho, whose sassy presence was a dominating force in DESTINATION... LERATO, still nails her solo, but fails to impress otherwise. Likewise, dancers like Linnert and Khenahad have some good moments, but need to display greater overall polish and mastery of technique. Only three of the trainees really come into their own in BHABA: the strong and focused Dibela and Afrika, and the magnificent Bosman, whose excellent control makes him a standout amongst his peers.