Joys of Sharing is easily one of the most exciting collaborative works to have been staged in Johannesburg this year. Three top South African artists, Gregory Vuyani Maqoma, Simphiwe Dana and Wouter Kellerman, got together for a series of performances at The Lyric Theatre.
Directed by dance veteran Gregory Maqoma, with his Vuyani Dance Theatre company members to live accompaniment by Simphiwe Dana and Wouter Kellerman, this work is certainly a combination of creative genius.
The venue for the production was The Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City. This is undoubtedly Johannesburg’s finest, most user-friendly theatre in terms of accessibility, proximity to secure parking, availability of reasonable quality restaurants at reasonable prices and good seats in a well designed, attractive and comfortable theatre (the theatre was designed by the late great Anthony Farmer). Pity the general northern suburbs audiences don’t bother to find out how well it works. Also a pity the management aren’t around to prevent little problems like the bottle neck of patrons coming up the escalator by moving the ticket collector staff three paces back. Theatre patrons for this sort of production do have tickets.
Simphiwe Dana is a Xhosa singer and song-writer in South Africa. Due to her unique combination of jazz, afro-soul, RAP and traditional music, she has been hailed as the “new Miriam Makeba”. I think that is a mild disservice to her. She is unique, even as the late Miriam Makeba was unique. One of the well known covers that Miriam Makeba sang was the magnificent Swahili love song attributed to Tanzanian Adam Salim. The title means “angel” and the lyrics talk about the love of a man who wishes to marriage his love, but cannot afford the bride price for her, so it is a very beautiful and an achingly sad song. Simphiwe Dana and Wouter Kellerman bring this beautiful jazz standard to life in a spine tingling way in a number they called ” Connection”.
Just before interval a beautiful work featuring jazz standards from the “township era” was performed, with gorgeous choreography by Gregory Maqoma to a medley of tunes including Mama Themba’s getting married tonight (with Wouter Kellerman on pennywhistle). This “Township Medley” was easily my favourite dance work of the evening in a programme which made use of a wide range of choreographic vocabulary, never settling on just one style. It was uplifting and upbeat, and summed up the whole “feel good/ enjoy excellence” mode of the evening.
The penultimate work of the evening was an improvisation “Ode to Bolero” on Ravel’s famous Boléro which starts with the flute theme and grows and swells to the insistent rhythm of a snare drum. It was originally commissioned as a ballet for the Russian actress/dancer Ida Rubinstein. Apparently when the work was premiered in Paris in 1928 an audience member jumped to her feet at the end screaming “Au fou, au fou!” (“The madman! The madman!”). When Ravel was told of this, he reportedly replied: “That lady… she understood.”
A bolero is both a dance and a type of music and if Kellerman made gave it form, then it was Gregory Maqoma which gave it life as he stepped the slow, quick, quick, slow beat in a way that the bolero has probably never been done in the past before building to a crescendo with his company. It was stunning and the audience loved it.
Throughout the evening’s performance there was only one thing that bothered me. In the dance items the lights at the side back of the stage almost continuously bore into the audience, blinding them. It was terrible in the first half where the gorgeous costumes were mostly white and pale grey, reflective and harsh in the hideous lighting. It got worse after interval where the costumes were a non-reflective black. There were points at which I could see NOTHING but the lights blinding me. This is very, very unkind to one’s audience. Please don’t do this again.
The use of the Creative Feel as the programme (with a bookmark insert detailing the run order) is one of great genius. The article is wonderful. If people don’t yet know the Creative Feel magazine, it is time they did find out about it. It is the only quality print magazine (as opposed to ezines and newspaper editions) looking at the arts in South Africa that I know of. The credits are listed in the magazine. Gregory Maqoma is the executive producer and choreographer with additional choreography by Otto Nhlapo. Dancers were Gregory Maqoma, Lulu Mlangeni, Julia Burnham, Kwazi Madlala, Phumlani Nyanga, Otto Nhlapo, Sinazo Bokolo, Xoliswe Bongwana, Phumlane Mndebele.Wouter Kellerman was the musical director and one of the featured artists together with Simphiwe Dana. The backing vocalists were Complete Quartet, guitarists Luke van der Merwe and Themba Mokoena, percussionist David Klaasen, bass guitarist Ratshepe Phresh Makhene, western drummer David Klaasen, keyboard Butana Ngubeni, lighting designer Mandla Mtshali, sound programmer Verny Scoltz, and costume design by Keaoleboga Seodigeng.