Dance Umbrella: Dirty Laundry

A dance work which will delight those who have ever done laundry, literally or figuratively.

Dirty Laundry, choreographed by Mark Hawkins, is conceived as a bit of frivolous fun. It is a spoof on how seriously many of us in the world of entertainment take ourselves. It starts with a collection of ballerina types at the barre against a backdrop of projected Degas ballet scenes. The movements are ugly. For a while I thought Mark Hawkins had gone bonkers, parading these poor dancers who have not been classically trained in a classical situation. Then the teasing nature of the work hit me.

We move through an ‘orchestrated’ dance piece with the conductor wearing only his underwear, a top hat and tails. Every time he wiggled his bum the comic effect sent the audience into hysterics. If the parodic nature of the work had eluded anyone before it was now clearly spelled out.

The costumes, props and special effects were marvellous. The bubble machines, simple children’s toys, captured the magic of the laundry days of my youth, while the really icky black water in the video had me mesmerised in horror as I watched white items being dropped into it. The vision of Bridget van Oerle in slippers, a dressing gown and “curlers” had me in hysterics, especially when her added padding was visibly lumpy. Tony Bentel’s glasses were a hoot.

A three-ringed circus this was, with laundry activities taking place to either side of the main stage which even had aerial work associated with it, mercifully brief, for the aerial work was frighteningly clumsy and unattractive. The physical meaning of ‘dirty laundry’ was never lost, but for the most part it was kept to the sides, featuring on the main stage only at intervals. The work was busy, almost frenetic and it was a marathon effort to keep up, especially as the nature of the humour was alternatively slap-stick and intellectually subtle, and sometimes both! An audio-visual presentation added to the work, often giving it a very strong message for those of us who wanted to make free interpretations!

It was the figurative meaning of the phrase which kept the work rich. At one point the two collided where the washing folk hung the newspaper headline posters on a washline at the back. So we have dirty laundry, the unflattering facts or questionable activities the people want to keep secret. I couldn’t help, in this situation, contemplating the one fact which was increasingly apparent to me as the work unfolded, and which no one in the dance world mentions because it is so politically incorrect to do so. This fact is that many of the dancers who enter without any ballet training and who get none seldom dance anywhere near as well as those with a ballet grounding, although there are exceptions who are so physically gifted that they do dance well regardless of not having had a classical training. At one point Mark Hawkins, the choreographer himself, appears on stage and joins the dancers. He too does the ugly dance, only his ugly dance is not ugly. It is grotesque. It is bizarre. It is amusing. But underneath it is still the beautiful movement made by someone trained to move beautifully.

Extravaganzas, circuses, ballet companies, visual art, orchestras, and a wide assortment of other entertainments and cultural pursuits were gently turned into objects of mild derision. I didn’t sense any malice in the work. Overwhelmingly, however, I felt a sense of uneasiness in the event. It was perhaps ironic that this fact should have been so sharply jarring in this very work where beautiful dancing is not only not the point of the choreography, but is in itself being parodied.

The energy and vibe of both the dancers and the ‘atmosphere personnel’ – those on the edges in the laundry – was wonderful and there was almost no-one in the packed house who was not up on their feet dancing at the end, a sign of enjoyment more common at rock concerts than contemporary dance productions.

The work itself is clever despite some rough edges in the technical execution (the one that literally glared at me was the slow cutting of the light which cast the shadow so that after the sheet was dropped the spotlight still blinded the audience). The work, as one would expect from a work which “blurs the boundaries of cabaret, burlesque, vaudeville and various dance styles”, is also fun and nearly everyone left the theatre with a smile.

Dirty Laundry choreographed by Mark Hawkins features the Moving Into Dance Mophotong Dance Company. The performance I attended took place at The Market Theatre on 25 February at 15:00. I look forward to seeing it again later in the year when it has been reworked and polished for a run by MIDM.

Lighting was by Nicholas Michaletos with dancers from Moving Into Dance Mophatong being Sonia Thandazile Radebe, Muzi Macaleni Shili, Thandiwe Winnie Tshabalala, Fana Albert Tshabalala, Julia Zenzie Burnham, Teboho Gilbert Letele. Sound was by Nik Sakellarides of Pink Room Productions, Script by Robert Whitehead, Laundry Etiquette V/O (what’s a V/O?) by Mark Banks, Set and Costume Design by Mark Hawkins, AV Projections by Thabo Sebatlelo, Atmosphere Personnel, Verreli Triegaart, Bridget van Oerle, Tony Bentel, Mark Hawkins, Sunnyboy Motau and Sipho Mqotsha, with Aerial Instruction by Mari-Louise Basson and Aerial Assistance by John Tsunke and Angela Maree of Mzansi Productions.

The Dance Umbrella, presented by the Dance Forum, is Dancing All Over Johannesburg from 17 February to 4 March.

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About moirads

Clergy person, theatre and music lover, avid reader, foodie. Basically, I write about what I do, where I go and things I love (or hate).
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