NAF 2015: Underground Dance Theatre’s LoveZero

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 Cipher, 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.”

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 Cipher’s creation as a kind of game of numbers.

“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).

“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.”

– Steyn du Toit

Briljante Dans Hou Jou Vasgenael

SÓ ‘n dansvertoning het plaaslike dansliefhebbers nog nie in Bloemfontein gesien nie.

Die standaard is hoog, die aanbieding is professioneel, maar bowenal is dit ‘n vars vermenging van danssoorte met briljante choreografie wat jou van die eerste passies vasgenael hou.

Dit bestaan uit twee dele. In die eerste deel, Cipher, was die trio Julia de Rosenwerth, Odille de Villiers en Nicola van Straaten ritmies en tegnies die toonbeeld van afgerondheid. Wanneer hulle dieselfde bewegings uitvoer, is dit of hulle aanmekaar vasgebind is, soms sonder musiek.

Cipher beeld die spanning tussen orde en wanorde, vorm en emosie, logika en absurditeit uit.

‘n Tikkende geluid dien as musiek in die openingsstuk om die orde te vergestalt. ‘n Heerlike heupswaai Rum and Coca Cola van die Andrews-susters weerspieël gevoel waarop die dansers na soepeler bewegings oorskakel.

Masks, ‘n ritmiese fluisterstem, bring hulle terug na regiditeit en in die vierde deel, When the northern lights, wat soos nywerheidsgeraas klink, voer die trio weer die aanvanklike drafpassies uit afgewissel met bewegings plat op die vloer en interessante patrone met hul arms en bene.

Die choreograwe Kristina Johnstone en Cilna Katzke se verbeeldings moes oortyd gewerk het. Dit is moeilik om te glo ‘n vertoning wat so gestroop en selfs elementêr voorkom, het so ‘n magnetise aantrekkingskrag.

Thalia Laric en Steven van Wyk verdien dieselfde mate van lof vir Mode , ‘n dansvertoning oor dans.

Drie danspare beset die verhoog saam met die operasangeres Robin Botha wat in ‘n effekleurige rooi balrok met ‘n breë wye romp onmiskenbaar opmerklik is teenoor die dansers met geruite rompe.

Dit is egter Botha se stem wat die sterkste impak maak. Sy sing deels onbegeleid en ryg die hoë note (vermoedelik ‘n top-C, dalk selfs hoër) met gemak en suiwerheid uit. Wat ‘n kragtoer.

Om haar beweeg die dansers, nou in ‘n walsmaat, dan hip-hop, daar is oomblikke van balletpassies, ‘n aërobiese roetine, en die wonderlikste, denkbeeldige volksdanse. Netjiese patrone en uitvoering van dié interessante danse laat jou oë nie ‘n oomblik afwyk nie.

Die dansers is die oud-Bloemfonteiner Henk Opperman, De Rosenwerth, De Villiers, Kopano Maroga, Natasha Rhoda en Sherwin Rhode. Elkeen verdien ‘n klop op die skouer vir vernuftige, energieke en afgeronde dans.

Dié vertoning sal hierdie balletomaan met nuwe oë na eietydse dans laat kyk, mits dit met dieselfde verbeelding en professionaliteit uitgevoer word.

As jy van dans hou, gaan kyk. Hulle is nog vandag te sien. Bravo aan ‘n uitmuntende span.

– Elretha Britz

Fascinating, Creative, Refreshing: LoveZero

Underground Dance Theatre is well known for creating high-quality, experimental and stimulating dance works. They do like to throw some intriguing and sometimes wacky stuff our way. It’s no different with LoveZero, their latest offering to the South African contemporary dance landscape.

It’s a double bill. Cipher gives us a rumination on numeration, and Mode presents an upturned historical perspective on dance.

“LoveZero is… falling in love with a Rubik’s cube… hopscotch on a Mondrian…” the programme note states.

Part One: Cipher, choreographed by Cilna Katzke and Kristina Johnstone:

Logic & love – mutually exclusive. Follow the rules and follow the steps. The three austerely dressed dancers jog in steadily rhythmic unison. Without skipping a beat they shift places as they turn corners, one overtakes to be the leader. Logical spacing.

On the floor now. Turning in spirals. A soft foot tap turns them back again. Straight line! They point and reach with all their might but they are bound to the ground. This dance is sensual and reveals how the trappings of logical, expected behaviour, distort a body, make it feel illogical in its longing.

Cipher is reminiscent of Yvonne Rainer’s pedestrian movement and minimalist style. Her ‘No Manifesto’ declared “No to spectacle. No to virtuosity. No to moving and being moved.” (amongst more)… But acting within this framework, Cipher manages to break these rules too. The performers have a bit of flirtatious fun during a scene danced to “Rum and Coca Cola”. They start with an understated shimmy, and using accumulation get increasingly sassy: a cheeky leg flick, a bolder shimmy shake, and a kiss blown. They’ve found their self-expression.

Part Two: Mode, choreographed by Steven van Wyk and Thalia Laric:

Mode takes a curious look at why we dance socially. Social dances throughout history have people partnered up and moving about without the aim of going somewhere. In essence, dance is an absurd thing to do. And Mode shows this up with its deconstruction and then amalgamation of various dance forms.

The dancers use their bodies for percussion and clap complex rhythms alongside the sensational soprano Robin Botha (Fleur du Cap winner). From the medieval carol, folk dance, renaissance and court dancing, to ballroom, a waltz, the tango and salsa, Mode incorporates these with a light touch of modern, contemporary and African dance too. This stimulating choreography skilfully keeps stylistic integrity with each form… to a point… and playfully suggests how interchangeable dance forms can be in their essence.

Why dance is special to me is that it doesn’t come with any answers. It’s up to me to respond to the imagery invoked and decide what meaning the work holds. Sometimes it’s emotionally moving, sometimes it’s intellectualised, sometimes it visually stimulates new perspectives on a variety of subjects.

LoveZero falls into the latter two. Cipher’s trio is well executed and challenges the viewer to think deeply about its imagery and metaphors. Mode too, is expertly performed and challenges us to consider the absurd in social dance but its tone of praise leaves us thinking about “why dance?”

LoveZero is fascinating and refreshing. For anyone interested in South Africa’s next generation of dance leaders should be watching Underground Dance Theatre closely as they approach creating their original stamp on SA dance.

– Sarah Roberson

Witty Dark Comedy With Pulp

A woman lies dead on the ground, her arms and legs spread out like a cliché chalk outline. A man and a woman stand over her body, looking down at her with cold, calm faces. One of them is holding a gun…

This is the frozen mosaic you walk into when entering the Pulp show. It makes you think that you are about to watch an dark intense piece of theatre. Instead you are treated to a witty, funny performance put on by the Underground Dance Theatre.

You know how the story ends. The performance is about how they got to that point. Steven van Wyk, Thalia Laric and Clina Katzke play three archetypical characters in this film noir comedy melodrama. They dance to a narrator who hilariously unveils the story using classic detective devices. The dancers embody their characters fully, using everything from body language, facial expression and particular movements to tell the story.

Where one character moves slowly and sensually, the other moves fast and haphazardly to show the stark contrast between them. Pulp was written and conceived by Steven van Wyk, and directed by himself, Thalia Laric and Cilna Katzke, and you can see their hard work in every detail of the show.

They take the cat and mouse chase of detective stories and turn it into an actual dance. It is a refreshing take on film noir and a lot of fun to watch.

The most brilliant part for me, is the effortless way they incorporate props into their choreography. Whether it’s a red suit case or moveable window pane with blinds, the performers dance, weave and exchange props with such ease. This is wonderful to watch, especially given the small space they have to work with at The Rosebank Theatre. They really make effective use of their stage.

The show is filled with energy, humour and wonderfully passionate performances.

– Annzra Denita

Slick Underground Dance Theatre show

ONE of the worst things a performance company can be is formulaic. It’s a mistake that Underground Dance Theatre never makes.

Their latest work, Pulp, a dance-theatre parody of film noir reminiscent of the likes of Sin City and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, is a case in point. And the drama begins with the publicity photographs that provide just the right amount of intrigue to encourage theatre fans to book to see it (now at the Rosebank Theatre until July 16 and at the Galloway Theatre from July 20 to 23).

It’s surprising how many artists, producers and directors continue to dabble in “we’ve-seen-this-before” territory, and wonder why their projects fall short of their goals.

Developing audiences can certainly be sustained through a basic reference language, be it verbal or physical, but creatives must realise the importance of finding those special qualities that translate into box office success. In the case of Underground Dance Theatre, established in 2010 by “a collective of artists with the intention to explore new performance styles and create progressive, entertaining works that are relevant to contemporary SA”, Pulp is evidence of their approach that produces slick, professional, cleverly thought through and meticulously rehearsed performances. And they’ve reinvented themselves slightly in this one.

Steven van Wyk has revealed yet another skill – that of scriptwriter – while Thalia Laric’s vampish persona as the femme fatale in heavy makeup and high heels was a fascinating contrast to her usual presentation as the barefoot “queen of contact improvisation”.

The pair hasn’t performed together since 2012, traditionally channelling their creative power as a choreographic duo into new and award-winning works for the company. Accolades accumulated so far include a Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival and a kykNET Fiesta for Best Dance Production for Skoonveld; an Ovation Award and kykNET Fiesta for Keepsake Minus 3 and the 2015 kykNET Fiesta for Most Groundbreaking Production for Askoop.

Van Wyk was nominated for a Fleur du Cap for his role as Best Actor in a Musical in Singin’ in the Rain while Laric was seen most recently in Nicola Elliott’s Run! and in numerous shows with First Physical Theatre. Cilna Katzke, a regular performer with the group, has also appeared in Sean Bovim’s Tango Nights, iKapa’s Stadium and productions with CT City Ballet.

All three presented consistent dramatic ability to portray their respective roles in a whodunnit involving private eye Joe, uber-housewife Patty and potential murderer Valda. Designed to be adapted for performance in a very intimate space, none shied away from making eye contact with the audience, their proximity placing little obvious pressure on their ability to stay in character or execute their deceptively simple choreography. That alone takes immense skill and focus – one missed step or misalignment could be a disaster.

The costumes by Hilette Stapelberg (Handspring Puppet Company; Arende; Fleur du Cap winner for The Tragedy of Richard III) and voiceover by Richard Wright (Black Sails) add the finishing touches to a piece well worth seeing. The script was key to setting the scene for a degree of unpredictability that together with the acting and dancing generated more than a few laughs and held the audience’s attention right to the end. Kudos indeed.

-Debbie Hathaway

BOK

BOK is a uniquely South African re-imagining of Vaslav Nijinsky’s iconic ballet l’Apres-midi d’un Faune (The Afternoon of a Faun). This ballet, which generated much controversy at its début in 1912 because of its erotic innuendos, is a major landmark in dance history. It raised debate around issues of freedom of expression and what should and should not be allowed to be depicted on stage. Aesthetically the work marked a major departure point from classical ballet, and as a result made an important contribution to the conversation about what is and should be considered dance. As South Africa looks back at 20 years of democracy, remembering history and historical landmarks, it seems fitting to draw from the ‘queer’ thread that is woven into Nijinsky’s work as a way to address issues around sexuality, freedom of speech and human rights. Underneath the beauty of the surreal fantasy that is BOK, we see a distorted reflection of contemporary South Africa.

Choreographed by Kristina Johnstone, Cilna Katzke and Steven van Wyk

EYES CLOSED WITH PINATA

In Eyes Closed with Piñata, the third instalment of the Eyes Closed series, the destructive game of beating a piñata is contrasted by the quiet aesthetic of the art gallery. Fragile papier mâché piñatas float in the air: an expectation of violence. The audience infiltrates this vulnerable space in which ordinary, blindfolded people are monumentalised atop pedestals. Living, breathing sculptures: blind yet armed, close enough to touch, and just about to hit.

Conceptualised by Steven van Wyk and Thalia Laric

MODE

Mode finds humour and aesthetic inspiration in the formal elements of social dances – from the processional rigidity of court dances, to the frivolity of the salsa. Mode is a dance about dancing, a half-forgotten recollection of dancing in church halls and ballrooms. Rhythms of first waltzes intertwine with ballet lessons, hip-hop classes and aerobics routines: ghost memories clouding over one another. An imaginary folk-dance for a people who never existed, Mode is an echo of memories both futuristic and nostalgic, a postcard from a fictional place.

Mode was first commissioned in 2014 by the Baxter Dance Festival. In 2015 it was paired with Cipher to form the double-bill LoveZero which was created for the National Arts Festival’s 2015 Arena programme.

Choreographed by Thalia Laric and Steven van Wyk

ROOM

With a classical movement vocabulary as its starting point, room explores the spaces between bodies and the room that defines their interaction. As an ‘algorithm’, room functions through a fixed list of well-defined instructions and expects definitive actions. Unlike the cold delineated space that this movement study inhabits, the warm bodies that actualise it question the nature of absolute conclusions. room was part of the production PLASTIC which was awarded a 2013 Standard Bank Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival.

Choreographed by Kristina Johnstone
Directed by Daniel Morcos

SKOONVELD

Once a luxurious tapestry, now a threadbare heirloom, this cherished portrait has often been restored. Weather-beaten and refurbished, treasured then forgotten, Skoonveld is this tapestry – a living still-life, a Voortrekker idyll, a pastoral landscape that paints and repaints the past. Skoonveld was part of the production PLASTIC which was awarded a Standard Bank Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival 2013. In addition, Skoonveld received a 2013 Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award and the 2014 Kyknet Fiesta Award for Best Dance or Physical Theatre Production.

Choreographed by Thalia Laric and Steven van Wyk