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Turning dance on its side

Roshan Sewpersad

Off Axis
Performed by the Fantastic Flying Fish Company
Baxter Theatre
29 June to 3 July 2004

Durban's premier contemporary dance company, the Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company, performed an exciting trio of cutting-edge new works at the Baxter Theatre for a short, four-day run. It's a pity their visit was so short, because by the time the locals would have got into gear to attend the show - after being inspired by the fabulous posters all over the city - it was over.

The first work, Run For Cover, choreographed by David Gouldie, is a blend of classical and physical theatre styles which focuses on how we identify and stereotype ourselves in a post-apartheid society. The work is fun and fresh and evokes a modern mechanical diorama.

The dancers give good performances, assuming the roles of clowns, puppets, strippers and contortionists. The costumes are elegant and are used to good effect. So are the simple props: a dinner table to and from which an assortment of characters is drawn and repelled, evoking a Pandora's Box from which an endless stream of characters emerges.

Christopher Kindo's work Black Tide echoes its haunting jazz soundtrack, and reflects the mauling, manhandling and rape of the environment. This is the piece in which the dancers excel technically, with acrobatic lifts and floor work. The feeling is one of frenetic, last-dash attempts at maintaining fluid order - the lead character being simultaneously aided and frustrated. However, as striking as the work is, it could have been taken further by exploring other moods and modes of expression to create a more varied performance.

Robyn Orlin's contribution, that's the way the cookie (is still) crumbl(ing)es, is a fun, (faux?) pretentious work that satirises a cult of oddball, over-the-hill female characters, danced by men in drag, who congregate around their common need for survival against the various enemies out there that surround and titillate them.

The work, more like a "dance installation", makes good use of lighting, music, props and costumes. It's a kind of ponderous (meant in the best way possible) drag show at a cabaret of the bizarre, dripping with camp. It reminds one of a mixed media township collage that one occasionally finds on sale at craft markets and on street corners. Full marks go to the dancers for bringing the work alive with their well-observed quirks. Orlin could have allowed the dancers more fluidity and sophisticated series of movements in order to make the props work in the service of dance and not the other way around. This would have elevated the artistic maturity of the work.

Off Axis was a pleasing glimpse at new South African choreography and, hopefully, sets the stage for more exciting dance in our theatres.

LitNet: 12 July 2004

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