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 and, 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. 



From left, Henk Opperman, Zama Sonjica, Bianca de Klerk, Bronwyn Reddy and Grace Babalwa Nosilela (Pic by Betalife Productions).
From left, Henk Opperman, Zama Sonjica, Bianca de Klerk, Bronwyn Reddy and Grace Babalwa Nosilela (Pic by Betalife Productions).

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 8 April 2015.

“Let’s start with the honourable arsehole,” Thalia Laric tells a group of performers sitting in a circle as I enter the theatre. Thankfully, as it turns out, she’s not referring to the journalist that just walked into their rehearsals.

Humming Koos du Plessis’ Kinders van die Wind, the group immediately gets up and launches into a hilarious scene in which the various organs of the human body argue over which one of them is most important.

Performed as part of Underground Dance Theatre’s brand new “dance cabaret,” to learn which organ (excuse the pun) clenches the victory you’ll have to go see Askoop when it opens at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) in Oudtshoorn (April 7 – 11).

Askoop is a cross-genre piece that reveals the iconic shopping trolley as more than just a wheeled metal structure,” Laric, who co-directs and -choreographs with Cilna Katzke, tells me during a break in rehearsals.

“Through the use of satirical humour and pathos it questions ideals of fulfillment and the limits of our greed. What does it mean to be rich, and to be poor, in today’s consumer culture?”

From left, Henk Opperman, Zama Sonjica and Grace Babalwa Nosilela (Pic by Betalife Productions).
From left, Henk Opperman, Zama Sonjica and Grace Babalwa Nosilela (Pic by Betalife Productions).

The inspiration for the production comes from a work she and Katzke made while studying together at UCT’s School of Dance.

“It was called Trouble With My Friend Again, and looked at the sacrifices we make in order to have one thing, only to have to give up something else in the process.

“How does the desire for material things affect our relationships? Is material fulfillment ever enough to satisfy emotional emptiness?”

Entertaining and provocative, Steve van Wyk and Joy Millar’s script for Askoop draws together dance, song and physical theatre in order to look at “how we see ourselves in relation to what we have and what we are able to attain.”

Made up of Bronwyn Reddy, Bianca de Klerk, Henk Opperman, Grace Babalwa Nosilela and Zama Sonjica, the eclectic cast represents a diverse mix of physical abilities and social backgrounds.

“Through their individual stories various they cast light on consumerism and greed in contemporary South Africa.

“Zama, for instance, is a wheelchair performer, who brings a distinguished sense of maturity as well as an incredible presence nuanced by real life experience to the stage.”

A large amount of the choreography sees the incorporation of actual shopping trolleys as well as the depiction of its relationship with individuals from various walks of life.

“We draw on various genres such as physical theatre, Broadway and contemporary dance. The trolley finds its particular identity, however, through the performers and how their individual characters embody their journey through the piece.

“[A trolley] fills. It empties. It waits to become. A carthorse for the middle-class, a sturdy companion for the barefoot beggar.”

Simultaneously, Askoop also sees the trolley used in unfamiliar ways – including being used as a pram, a chariot, a recliner and even a container for people and ideas – in an attempt to challenge the viewer’s existing perception of it.

“The most dancey section of the work is a duet between Zama and Henk. It makes for a very powerful moment due to their respective talents as professional contemporary dancers.”

Referring to the production’s title, Laric explains “askoop” is a made-up word, which, directly translated, means “ash purchase.” A bit of wordplay on the Afrikaans term ashoop (rubbish dump), it means to purchase something that is made of ash (i.e. something that will eventually disintegrate).

“Why do we have such a desire to acquire material things that ultimately are not able not fulfill us? As Cilna once summed it up during rehearsals: ‘Ek kan nie ‘n venter waentjie hemel toe vat nie‘ (I can’t take a trailer to heaven with me).”

Under the musical direction of De Klerk several well-known songs were arranged specifically, including Whatever Lola WantsWives and Lovers and Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.

Zama Sonjica, front, Grace Babalwa Nosilela and Henk Opperman, inside trolley, and Bronwyn Reddy and Bianca de Klerk, back (Pic by Betalife Productions).
Zama Sonjica, front, Grace Babalwa Nosilela and Henk Opperman, inside trolley, and Bronwyn Reddy and Bianca de Klerk, back (Pic by Betalife Productions).

Apart from Kinders van die Wind, among the other South African favourites popping up are Laurika Rauch’s Kyk Hoe Glinster die Maan as well as Jeremy Taylor’s Ag Pleez Daddy.

“You will also notice that English and Xhosa verses have been added to Kinders van die Wind.”

Askoop is made possible in through funding from the Waterfront Theatre Company as well as a successful Thundafund campaign run by Underground Dance Theatre.

“We are so grateful to the people who came forward to contribute to the development of this new work. In total we raised just over R24 000. It’s been wonderful to get to know our supporters through crowd funding.”

l For Askoop’s performance schedule, or to book tickets, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or see

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



Adriana Jamisse and Julia de Rosenwerth in Chalk (Pic: Nicola Elliott).
Adriana Jamisse and Julia de Rosenwerth in Chalk (Pic: Nicola Elliott).

This interview was first published in Sunday Independent on 8 March 2015.

Choreographer Nicola Elliott debuts a brand new work at Cape Town’s Infecting the City festival this week. Steyn du Toit talks to the former Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance about parkour, cityscapes and drawing lines with chalk.

“I’ve always been inspired by bodies that treat the cityscape as a playground for expression,” Elliott tells me at the start of our interview.

“They aren’t confined by rules, yet they aren’t destructive either. Just look at how parkour allows its practitioners to use the cityscape as a springboard for their own assertion of freedom.”

Elliott’s latest performance piece involves performers Richard Antrobus, Julia de Rosenwerth, Adriana Jamisse and Kopano Maroga engaging in a “dance game” within the unstable demarcations of a shifting and busy pedestrian intersection on Cape Town’s Parliament Street.

Performances are scheduled for Friday, March 13 at 12:30 and Saturday, March 14 at 10:30.

Nicola Elliott (Pic: Timmy Henny).
Nicola Elliott (Pic: Timmy Henny).

“Aiming to explore the power and play of demarcation, Chalk sees the disruption of the status quo through opposing the normative mode of physicality within a particular environment.”

Referring to the psychogeographical concept of the dérive as one of her inspirations, she continues that the practice envisions bodies in the cityscape that are not defined by product or purpose.

“Rather, they drift or wander through the city often into places or across boundaries in direct opposition to how the city aims to process its bodies.

Chalk is about the human shape within Cape Town’s cityscape. Its beautiful buildings seem rather inorganic, and even permanent, in comparison to our very fleeting human shapes.”

By drawing chalk lines in a similar way to how it is used to demarcate a space for bodies to play during sports, Elliott has also framed her performers’ game within its public setting. It now becomes a playground on which their bodies can be “non-product orientated”.

“Of course, theoretically, one doesn’t need a cordoned off space to be allowed physical expressive freedom in the city. Or do you?”

Adriana Jamisse and Julia de Rosenwerth (Pic: Nicola Elliott).
Adriana Jamisse and Julia de Rosenwerth (Pic: Nicola Elliott).

During their performance, the dancers are required to use the chalk to record “where” they’ve been and “how” they’ve been as well.

“Sometimes it’s a very calming and harmonious process to watch, and then there are moments during which they proceed to break out of the order in search of some well-deserved chaos.

“During rehearsals the cast and I worked with a lot of task-driven improvisation when creating the ‘language’ and experiences of the piece. The first step was to define what it was that the work wanted to say or do.

“After learning the ‘language’, we then set out finding a way of ‘talking’ with the space that we’ll be performing in. While the language itself has its moments of being physically demanding and virtuosic, what’s more important is that the dancers need to be highly sensitive to their environment, as well as to how their bodies respond to it”.

When coming to see Chalk, Elliott hopes that viewers will leave feeling more sensitive to their own physicality within the busy environment of the Mother City.

“I hope that they will notice their own body more, and perhaps even allow it a few more deep breaths, or to take the time to wander around the city a bit.

“I conceive of it introducing a broader spectrum of human body shape into the performance of the city. It’s to make us self aware and more sentient.”

To book tickets for Chalk, or to see the full Infecting the City programme and schedule, on until March 14 , see and, or follow @InfectingtheCT on Twitter.