NAF 2015: UNDERGROUND DANCE THEATRE’S LOVEZERO

Cilna Katzke in Mode (Pic by Oscar O'Ryan)
Cilna Katzke in Mode (Pic by Oscar O’Ryan)

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 1 July 2015.

Steyn du Toit

After months of strenuous rehearsals Cape Town’s Underground Dance Theatre is finally packed-up and ready to embark on their annual trip to the Eastern Cape. Split between three vehicles – containing 10 dancers, their costumes and props – are two dance pieces the company is presenting at this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown.

Titled LoveZero the programme is made up of Steven van Wyk and Thalia Laric’s Mode, which first premiered as the Baxter Dance Festival’s commissioned piece last year; and Cypher, a brand new piece featuring dancers Julia de Rosenwerth, Odille de Villiers and Nicola van Straaten.

Cipher is a numbers game,” explains Cilna Katzke, who choreographed the piece along with Kristina Johnstone. “Numbers seem rational, logical and impersonal, yet we seem to be deeply attuned to how numbers ‘feel’. There are favourite numbers, lucky numbers, mystical numbers…the list goes on.

Cipher explores the human inclination to ascribe emotion to that which seems obscenely rational. The dance navigates the tension between order and disorder, harmony and anarchy, the logical and the absurd.”

Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)
Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)

Referring to the inspiration behind the production, Katzke explains that, during her time as a student at UCT, she had to do a project generally referred to as the “In-the-style-of project”. As part of it she had to choose a choreographer whose work she found interesting, before presenting her own piece in a similar style.

“The piece I chose was Shutters Shut, originally choreographed by Nederlands Dans Theater’s (NDT) artistic director Paul Lightfoot and artistic advisor Sol León. In it they used a repetitive Gertrude Stein poem (“If I Had Told Him a Completed Portrait of Picasso”) as the soundtrack, with each word having a specific movement or gesture to go with it.

“While I chose a different Stein poem (“Matisse”), I still had to work with the external formula/structure (choreography) that the piece required. A certain amount of artistic decisions where therefore taken away from me. It is an aesthetic that I liked so much that, several years after graduating, I wanted to revisit its mechanics when it came to Cipher.

What she enjoys most about this process, Katzke explains, is that she does not have to stop all the time and “worry whether or not a choreographic decision I am busy making is right or wrong.” Instead, she continues, all she has to do is “lose myself in the process of creating.”

Wanting to create a piece using a similar pre-defined structure, combined with listening to a podcast on numbers by chance at the same time, led to the idea of approaching Cypher’s creation as a kind of game of numbers.

Nicola van Straaten, Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)
Nicola van Straaten, Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)

“Initially Kristina and I spoke a lot about our favourite numbers; why they meant, important dates and birthdays in our lives, family dynamics, how many people in each family, how many children, and so on.

“From that we assigned words to each number from one to nine and, bringing in a games element, we then used a Sudoku puzzle to fill in the words/numbers that we’ve selected. This ‘game’ led to the birth of the dance moves associated with each word.”

Arranged by Heno Janse van Rensburg, the production’s choreography plays out to songs such as Max Richter’s “A Sudden Manhattan Of The Mind” and “When The Northern Lights/Jasper And Louise”, The Andrews Sisters’ “Rum and Coca Cola” as well as Meredith Monk’s “Masks.”

“When you have an abstract movement and you add a piece of music to it, suddenly that movement becomes imbued with emotion. The music we chose capture the mood and intentions of the piece, and were an integral part in helping us create our movements.

“Because each song is also from a different style and/or era, it constantly shifts the emotion on stage. The audience therefore will find themselves responding accordingly with each new track.”

Simple, understated cues will be used when lighting the dancers on stage from above, combined with brights from the side to make them appear more sculptural.

“They’ll be wearing long dresses that come to about mid-calf. Being this covered adds a different sphere, a kind of old-world feel to the piece. They look like women from a Jane Austen novel. It’s an interesting contrast, having movements that are quite athletic and relentless seen executed through the shape and weight of the material.”

Since debuting at the Baxter last year, Katzke goes on to say, Mode has undergone several tweaks in preparation for the festival. Directly following NAF, both productions will also travel to the Free State Arts Festival in Bloemfontein (July 13 – 18).

Henk Opperman en Ciara Barron in Mode (Pic by Oscar O'Ryan)
Henk Opperman en Ciara Barron in Mode (Pic by Oscar O’Ryan)

“The biggest change to Mode was that they’ve incorporated more dancers. There are now six – Julia de Rosenwerth, Odille de Villiers, Kopano Maroga, Henk Opperman, Natasha Rhoda en Sherwin Rhode – alongside opera singer Robin Botha.

“The costumes have changed slightly as well. They’re still wearing kilt-like skirts, however, the cast’s not wearing those turtleneck jerseys anymore. Instead they now wear vests, but also in different colours.

“Because Mode is a dance about dancing, Steve and Thalia have this time around approached the ending in a bit of a tongue and cheek way. Bringing in more types of dances to end things off on a slightly different way than before, they’re also commenting on the way we as a society end our dances.”

l NAF takes place from July 2 – July 12. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

NAF 2015: UNDERGROUND DANCE THEATRE’S LOVEZERO

REVIEW: BLUE ORANGE

Andrew Buckland, Marty Kintu and Nicholas Pauling in Blue/Orange. (Photo: Rodger Bosch)
Andrew Buckland, Marty Kintu and Nicholas Pauling in Blue/Orange. (Photo: Rodger Bosch)

This review was first published in Sunday Independent on 22 February 2015.

BLUE/ORANGE. Directed by Clare Stopford, and starring Andrew Buckland, Marty Kintu and Nicholas Pauling. At the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio, Monday to Tuesday at 7pm, and Wednesday to Saturday at 8.15pm until March 14. STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind,” Ralph Ellison’s unnamed African-American narrator tells us at the start of The Invisible Man (1952).

He’s referring to what it is like living as a black man in the United States.

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass.”

The young English black man at the centre of dramatist Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange appears to suffer from the same affliction as Ellison’s protagonist.

Described as bringing psychiatric theory and practice under scrutiny, this trenchant production walked away with the Evening Standard, London Critics’ Circle as well as the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2001. It makes its local debut under the direction of Clare Stopford (Green Man FlashingPurgatorio), who have opted to to retain the plot’s original UK setting.

Opening on his 28th and final day of being a patient at a London psychiatric hospital, we frequently see Christopher’s (Marty Kintu) well-being openly discussed by young registrar Bruce (Nicholas Pauling) and his supervisor, Robert (Andrew Buckland), as if the twenty-something weren’t sitting a few feet away watching them from behind a non-soundproof window.

Used as a pawn in their Darwinian struggle for institutional power, the script’s parallels to colonialism, evolution, racism and modern living become gradually clearer as we begin to realise that Christopher will most likely be released from the hospital in a worse condition than what he was in when he first arrived.

And that is saying a lot about a patient who was brought in following “an incident in a market square”, and claiming to simultaneously be the illegitimate sons of both Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and boxing great Muhammad Ali, as well as that oranges are, in fact, a blue-coloured fruit.

But what if the angry, teeth-kissing Christopher has suffered neither a brief psychotic episode, as per Robert, nor showing the early warning signs of schizophrenia, as Bruce seems convinced of?

What if, instead, his behaviour is simply the manifestation of how the doctors – and, by implication, today’s global Eurocentric society – respond to young men from his specific demographic background?

Through Patrick Curtis’s entirely reflective set design Stopford proceeds to distort the audience’s reflections before presenting it back to us. Caught between self-reflection and being critically-engaged with the ideas ping-poned across the stage, the result becomes a theatrical excursion in which each viewer will likely have a unique viewing experience.

“I am frequently asked why I haven’t adapted Blue/Orange from the English to the South African context where the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of black mental patients are a large and relevant issue,” Stopford explains in a recent interview.

“Here, our racial past and present and our conflicted notions of cultural difference or sameness make the topic of black mental health diagnosis politically fraught. I thought it could be useful to look at the issue sideways, from a different angle, and not fully in the face.

“In this way we can perhaps think differently or freshly about the problem.This is what Joe Penhall’s hugely articulate play does for us in South Africa. It gives us an opportunity to think about our own problems while looking at someone else’s (in this case another country’s).”

The success of this sardonic, comical play ultimately relies on its cast. Lead by Andrew Buckland, not only does each actor deliver convincing and nuanced performances, but as an ensemble they successfully rise to the challenges presented by Penhall’s tightrope script.

There are few who could deliver a line such as, “Lick my anus!” with such skill that it comes out sounding like a Tony-winning monologue, than Buckland. Composed, calculating, ambitious and not ashamed to admit it, his Robert makes for riveting theatre.

A versatile, edgy young performer with an impressive CV that includes Death of a Colonialist and Amadeus, Pauling is another actor one can always bank on for your money’s worth. Where his character lacks in experience he aims to makes up with good intentions, although, as many of us can attest to, good intentions will eventually only get you so far in life.

Asking its viewer to consider what exactly the definitions of madness and sanity should be in 2015, Blue/Orange is highly recommended fare.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions, please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

REVIEW: BLUE ORANGE

INTERVIEW: BAXTER THEATRE AFRIKAANS FESTIVAL

Gerben Kamper as Gregor Samsa and Antoinette Kellerman as Josephine in Samsa-masjien.
Gerben Kamper as Gregor Samsa and Antoinette Kellerman as Josephine in Samsa-masjien.

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 10 February 2015.

Afrikaans is currently taking centre stage at the Baxter, with a trio of last year’s biggest festival hits each enjoying a proper theatre run.

Kicking off what will hopefully become an annual event was Willem Anker’s ATKV Woorveertjie-winner, Samsa-masjien (January 16 – 31).

After debuting at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) last year, this sensory production received the event’s Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director awards, as well as the Herrie prize for “mind-shifting” work.

Dirty, noisy, primal and performed on a multi-level set in which the actors were sometimes seen crawling or having sex covered in dirt among the scaffolding below, Samsa-masjien was directed by Jaco Bouwer (RooilandBalbesit) and starred Gerben Kamper, Antoinette Kellerman, Ludwig Binge and Ilana Cilliers.

The devastation of old age and the therapeutic powers of friendship are looked at in Die Ongelooflike Reis van Max en Lola (The unbelievable journey of Max and Lola). Currently showing and ending on Saturday (February 7), this dramedy stars Vinette Ebrahim and Chris van Niekerk (both 7de Laan).

Taking place on the eve of Max’s 80th birthday, the play opens to him getting ready to host a dinner for those of his friends still alive. Following a series of apologetic phone calls, however, he suddenly finds himself with only one guest left: Lola. A sassy 79-year-old, it is their shared love for “the bioscope” that have kept her, a coloured woman, friends with him, a quirky gay white man, for the past five decades.

The final production in this year’s Afrikaans Season is Marthinus Basson’s two-hour epic adaptation of Eitemal’s original translation of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth.

Renamed Macbeth.Slapeloos (Macbeth.Sleepless), through this prolific director’s goggles the viewer is given a conceptual look at the emotional and psychological effects that all of Macbeth (Dawid Minnaar) and his wife’s (Anna-Mart van der Merwe) violent scheming will eventually have on their sleeping patterns. The production runs till February 21.

Edwin van der Walt, Dawid Minnaar, Antoinette Kellermann, Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Senzo Madikane and Jana Cilliers in Macbeth.slapeloos
Edwin van der Walt, Dawid Minnaar, Antoinette Kellermann, Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Senzo Madikane and Jana Cilliers in Macbeth.slapeloos

“As an institution the Baxter has always been interested in Afrikaans theatre. The idea behind the Afrikaans Season was to market it in a way that would create a sensation,” says Baxter CEO and artistic director Lara Foot.

“By doing a season, as opposed to sporadic presentations such as Rondomskrik last year, we’ve put together the cream of current Afrikaans theatre. These three productions have all done extremely well on the festival circuit in 2014.”

While seasoning the plays together has so far reaped good rewards in terms of bums on seats, Foot adds that she also sees this venture as a way for the Baxter to provide “a home” for Afrikaans theatre in Cape Town.

“Here these theatremakers are treated the way they deserve to be. They are being provided with the full technical and logistical support that the Baxter offers. We are very excited about developing non-English audiences.”

Referring to Afrikaans theatre’s place within the broader industry, she adds that one of the qualities she admires the most about its practitioners is that they take the art of theatre seriously.

“Obviously I’m talking about a specific group of theatremakers, such as the Marthinus Bassons and Jaco Bouwers of the world. Those who demonstrate a real intellectual and artistic approach to their work.

“People like Antoinette Kellermann or Anna-Mart van der Merwe. These are actresses who engage with their work in a truly artistic sense. They push the boundaries of performance.

“While I certainly can’t say that these qualities are specific to Afrikaans theatre, it is certainly one of its major attractions in the sense that it’s not geared towards commercialism, but rather intellectual encounters.”

A reason for the longstanding consistency in the quality of Afrikaans theatre, as well as a steady output of new scriptwriters, performers and directors over the years, Foot explains, is due to the value placed on these individuals by their community.

“Festivals such as KKNK, Aardklop (Potchefstroom) and Vryfees (Bloemfontein) are well attended and funded. There’s a sort of identity that is maintained through the work offered. That’s been important both politically and culturally.

“But while festivals have given these artists a life, it is dangerous to have them only rely on these events for a living. Sponsorships aren’t necessarily always maintained, or a drop in the economy could lead to less ticket sales next year.”

The solution, Foot argues, is to also give celebrated productions residencies and runs at established theatres outside of festivals.

“That is how you build an audience. We should be moving these works into theatres for lengthy runs with proper marketing and technical support.

“Simultaneously, we also want to avoid a marginilised or exclusive situation. When you come to the Baxter, we want you to know that there are all kinds of theatre being hosted under one roof. It’s not about Afrikaans theatre specifically. It’s about the best theatre.

Getting ready for Friday night’s (February 6) premiere of Macbeth.Slapeloos, she cites its veteran director as one of her personal career inspirations.

“Marthinus is incredibly imaginative and inventive. He speaks in a visual language. His productions will often combine language and iconography in order to blur the viewer’s senses. The result is a visceral experience that takes one into subconscious territory.

“Basson is the kind of director that burns lasting images into your mind. I can still remember specific set and prop elements from his first staging of Macbeth, and I must have seen it nearly 20 years ago!”

l Tickets are R100 – R120. To book, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or see www.computicket.com

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions, please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

INTERVIEW: BAXTER THEATRE AFRIKAANS FESTIVAL