The choice of an opening work for the Dance Umbrella contemporary dance festival must be a difficult one. This year, the 28th Dance Umbrella, festival doyenne Georgina Thomson selected a work by Jessica Nupen and Sunnyboy Motau based on the Romeo and Juliet story entitled “Rebellion and Johannesburg”.
The work propels one into Johannesburg 2016. An audio visual is dominated by the inner city, once dream location, Ponte Tower. To the side of the stage is a hanging structure which parodies the Ponte Tower and its aspirations. It is held together on coathangers. Every so often the hula hoops which make up the iconic round structure are taken down, leaving just the top. The bottom third, like the bottom third of Johannesburg society, becomes invisible unless thrust into the foreground. I don’t usually like audio visual presentations, but this one works.
Tables, buckets and hula hoops all become taxis, parliament (which isn’t in Johannesburg, of course, but which does affect Johannesburg greatly, and the thriving street markets around the taxi hubs. Sangomas and penis enlargement specialists jostle for attention together with fruit and single cigarette vendors. The work, like Johannesburg, is vibrant, noisy, messy and exciting.
Romeo and Juliet is Shakespeare’s iconic play about love, life and death. In that sense this work is based on the classic R&J, but the storyline is never appropriated.
Performed by MIDM (Moving Into Dance Mophatong) dancers Oscar Buthelezi, Tebogo Gilbert Letle, Eugene Mashiane, Thabang Mdlalose, Sunnyboy Motau, Asanda Ruda, Muzi Shili, and Thenjiwe Soxokoshe, the work shows off the strength of this company, and particularly the technical improvements of the dance movements themselves since the appointment of Mark Hawkins to the company. Dance Umbrella is really all about the choreography, but the audience likes to see great dancing and impeccable theatricality. That is what the packed opening night house with all its dance fundis got.
Rebellion and Johannesburg is a clever work, skilfully told. After the debacle of the 2015 opening piece which just would not stop, it was a relief that this work ended just short of an hour, before the audience started to squirm and while there was still more to tell about the city and its people.
The photographs, taken by veteran dance photographer John Hogg, were provided by the publicist, Behind the Scenes, and give a brilliant overview of the work.
I loved this.
Rebellion & Johannesburg was created by Jessica Nupen with assistance from Sunnyboy Motau . Other credits are Spoek Mathambo (music composition), Anmari Honiball (costumes and set), Ed Blignaut (film projection), Lars Rubarth and Felix Striegler (sound).
The South African premiere was on opening night of the 28th Dance Umbreall at the UJ Theatre in Auckland Park on 25 February 2016. For more information go to www.danceforumsouthafrica.co.za