Review: SUEÑOS at Theatre on the Bay Is a Sensual Celebration of Spanish Music and Dance

This passionate production features James Grace, Carli Olivier & Compañía Sophia Spanish Dance.

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SUEÑOS, which translates to 'dreams' is an ode to Andalucía in Spain and is the third collaboration between internationally acclaimed and 2020 SAMA-winning guitarist James Grace, and leading choreographer and principal dancer of South Africa's foremost Spanish dance company, Compañía Sophia, Carli Olivier.

The show starts off intimately, opening with only Grace on stage, perched on a chair, dexterously strumming away on one of his two guitars. Accompanied by soft, orange, blue and white light, the audience is immediately drawn into his complex, melodic playing. Grace's stage presence is dazzling and yet understated. His explanation of what he is playing, the history thereof, and the different techniques which he uses makes the audience feel like we have the privilege of sitting in on a coveted, one-on-one seminar with this professional musician. Grace is adept at connecting with the audience, seemingly without trying. His talent, ease and enthusiasm for the guitar shine through in his performances and in his fascinating narrations.

'THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL Star Belinda Davids Returns To Joburg TheatreCarli Olivier, principal dancer of Compañía Sophia, and her fellow dancers, Marilie Viljoen and Monique Els, entrance us with fancy footwork, breath-taking choreography and a selection of the most beautiful Spanish-inspired outfits. Their flamenco is gorgeous to watch, often fast paced, with superb rhythm and facial expressions to match. All three dancers provide unique energies and personalities through their movement - all three are electric. I particularly loved that hard tapping 'clack' of their shoes (how gorgeous their different pairs of red and black shoes are!) hitting the stage on the beat every time. They make this complex artform look so easy. The use of castanets, different coloured fans and handkerchiefs add to the spectacle and make this show a feast for the senses.

One of my favourite parts of the show is Grace's exceptional take on 'Autumn Leaves'. As one would imagine, this is no ordinary cover. As Grace explains before he begins, this is a 'deconstructed' version of this much beloved song, which he builds on as he plays. He begins simply, with the melody, adds some bass, and then some chords. After this, he supplements this with some more complex chords and then inverts them - blending, as he explains. He goes on to improvise, then adds rapid arpeggio playing and, by the end, is playing at a frenetic rhythm. His fingers move rapidly on the guitar. Indeed, the friend I was watching this, who plays the instrument as a hobby, remarked to me, mouth agape, how he wished he could play like this. It is a treat to behold.

I also loved Graces' cover of 'The Walking Stick' accompanied by Olivier, Viljoen and Els, as well as by Lex Gruver of Johannesburg-based contemporary ballet company, WGRUV Dance International.

'THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL Star Belinda Davids Returns To Joburg TheatreIndeed, the show is varied in content, with unexpected guests along the way. Dancers from WGRUV Dance International join in for some more of the numbers which adds an extra dimension to this already spectacular show. The company specialises in a fusion of traditional Spanish and contemporary forms and their choreography is fresh. Another treat is Tommy Gruver's playing of the cachon, a box-shaped drum on which he sits, while Olivier, Viljoen, Els and Lex have a Spanish 'dance-off' of sorts. The audience has as much fun as the dancers do.

As someone who knows very little about Spanish dance or music and who is not usually a lover of the guitar, my mind has been changed by this show. I have a new appreciation for, as Grace quotes Beethoven, this 'mini orchestra'.

Do not miss this electrifying and passionate ode to Spanish song and dance.

SUEÑOS runs at Theatre on the Bay from 12 to 22 April. Tickets range from R180 to R250 and can be booked via Webtickets.


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