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2012 South African Theatre Retrospective: Dance and Physical Theatre

Mariette Opperman in GISELLE
Photo credit: Cape Town City Ballet

2012 is over and done with and as part of a series of four columns that reviews the past year of South African theatre, this final column serves as an overview of various dance shows and physical theatre pieces that have appeared around the country during 2012. Previous columns have focused on plays, musicals, operas, comedy shows and cabarets that have been seen in South Africa this year. For now - on with the dance!

Cape Town City Ballet's 2012 season included classics like GISELLE and THE NUTCRACKER, as well as one of my favourite ballets thanks to the lush score by Alexander Glazunov, RAYMONDA. This version of RAYMONDA, which was presented at the Artscape in Cape Town, was created by Norman Furber for the CAPAB Ballet Company in 1980 and was recreated by Elizabeth Triegaardt from videos made during the 1980s and 1990s. The plot of the ballet is a straightforward one: Raymonda, who is betrothed to Jean de Brienne, is abducted by a mystical sultan, Abderam, who is besotted with her and she is saved by her beloved, which leads to much festivity. The simplicity of the plot means that excellent dancing must be the order of the day in any production of RAYMONDA and this production had many highlights, particularly in Acts I and III.

Contemporary ballet was also seen in Bovim Ballet's revival of their production of QUEEN AT THE BALLET. Passionately danced by the company, the show featured standout performances from Henk Opperman as Freddie Mercury and Devon Marshbank as Jim Hutton. Also prominent in the company were the graceful Tanya Futter, the personable Faye Dubinski and the elegant Nicola van der Merwe.

Henk Opperman in QUEEN AT THE BALLET

BURN THE FLOOR stopped in both Cape Town and Johannesburg as part of its current world tour. This exhilarating ballroom dancing extravaganza featured an internationally diverse company, including South Africa's very own Keoikantse Motsepe, the country's local Latin American Champion since 2004. The show takes ballroom dancing - everything from the Viennese waltz through to Latin American styles - and packages it in a sexy show for audiences used to popular dances shows on television like STRICTLY COME DANCING and SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. Vanessa Harris and Ashley Searle, the co-owners of Follow Spot Productions, picked this show as one of their personal highlights of the last year: 'We were blown away by BURN THE FLOOR. The energy was absolutely electric throughout.'

BIKO'S QUEST was presented by Jazzart and the Steve Biko Foundation at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town, inspired by an exhibition at the foundation, "The Quest for True Humanity." In the piece, director Mandla Mbothwe and choreographers Jacqueline Manyaapelo, Ina Wichterich-Mogane and Mzokuthula Gasa explored not only Steve Biko's life and death, but also a reflection of the relevance of his philosophies 35 years after his murder at the hands of the security police during the apartheid era in South Africa.

Standard Bank Young Artist Bailey Snyman presented his new dance work, MOFFIE, based on Andre Carl van der Merwe's novel of the same name, at the National Arts Festival in July. Dealing with issues faced by gay people in the military, MOFFIE examined both the historical echoes and contemporary resonance of this theme in South Africa, arguing that 'although the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had gone a long way to expose and exorcise some of the atrocities committed in the name of apartheid, very little has been revealed about the adversities faced by gay people under the old regime.' Within this context, Snyman explored love, sexuality, fear, denial and violence in his choreography for the piece, which went on to be performed at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg later in the year.

Bailey Snyman's MOFFIE
Photo credit: Chris de Beer

UBOM! Eastern Cape Drama Company presented a new work this year, a satirical romp entitled THE DOGS MUST BE CRAZY. Archly satirical, the show was based on a concept by Mike van Graan and delved into some of the pressing political issues that face post-apartheid South Africa. Rob Murray directed this maniacally gleeful and darkly comic work, which premiered at the Western Cape Schools Festival in February before a full run at the National Arts Festival.

Winner of a Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award for Physical Theatre in 2011, MAFEKING ROAD returned to South African stages in 2012. Director Tara Notcutt, along with cast members Andrew Laubscher and Mathew Lewis, reinvented the classic stories of Herman Charles Bosman using a vibrant comic book style of physicality to transform Bosman's prose into theatrical form for a new generation.

In a year where Magnet Theatre celebrated a quarter century of theatre-making, the company revived their memorable and evocative 2001 production, VOICES MADE NIGHT. Magnet Theatre describes the importance of the show in the context of their work as follows: 'VOICES MADE NIGHT reflects all of Magnet Theatre's orientations as a company - a focus on creative, innovative and sophisticated African theatre which engages with their present condition in southern Africa; a commitment to developing theatre that consistently challenges form, the roles of theatre and its reach; and the prioritising of the body and the physical image.' Based on Mia Couto's image rich stories, the piece examines the relationship between colonialism and de-colonisation, revealing insights into the challenges related to the transformation in post-colonial countries. Directed by Mark Fleishman, the company of the show at the National Arts Festival included Faniswa Yisa, Jennie Reznek, Dann-Jaques Mouton, Mfundo Tshazibane, Thando Doni, Chiminae Ball and Richard September.

Mathew Lewis (left) and Andrew
Laubscher (right) in MAFEKING ROAD

To finish off this series of columns looking back at the theatre of 2012, I would like to mention a show that rather defies classification, but which was cited by several industry folk one of their favourite productions of the year: THE EPICENE BUTCHER AND OTHER TALES FOR CONSENTING ADULTS. Conceived by Gwydion Beynon and Jemma Kahn, with Kahn being directed by John Trengove in performance, the piece used the Japanese storytelling form of Kamishibai to relate a selection of other stories, including the titular tragedy of "The Epicene Butcher", a man who died because he ate what he loved. Tara Notcutt, the co-founder and Artistic Director of The Pink Couch, regarded this show as a standout among the many great productions she saw during the past year: 'It was funny, smart, very sexy, and just plain cool. This clever little show introduced audiences to the Japanese street theatre style of Kamishibai was unlike anything I've seen before, and I can't wait to see it again when it does the rounds next year.'

2013 is here: here's to a year of diverse and compelling theatre! Keep an eye out for our look at what will be on offer on our stages in the next season of South African dance and physical theatre.

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From This Author David Fick