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Swimming on the Square

After dusk on Saturday February 21, the FNB Dance Umbrella opens with Screen Factor 8. Directed and choreographed by Sue Pam-Grant, produced by Blue Moon and featuring the Moving Into Dance Mophatong Performance Company, the piece is a large-scale, 20-minute-long multi-media production.

It utilises eight moving screens, manoeuvred by the dancers, on to which about 350 still photographs — taken by John Hodgkiss — are projected. The images feature choreographed sequences of the performers attired in white swimming costumes and 1950s-style cat’s-eye sunglasses. Their positions, from complete relaxation to acrobatic leaps, revolve around eight deck chairs.

‘The fact that it was going to be a site-specific work in Sandton Square in February led us to draw on themes of leisure and summer,” says Pam-Grant. Taking its cues from the setting, the style of the piece draws on the aesthetics of advertising and fashion shoots.

It is a hip production with a soundtrack featuring music ranging from Manu Chao to Erik Satie. However, instead of a beach and ocean setting, the photographed sequences take place against infinite white space.

‘There’s the irony of something that’s quite light, summery and beachy, but incongruous in Sandton Square, in a built-up city. There is an alienation we’re playing with, a separation,” says Pam-Grant.

For the most part the dancers themselves are hidden behind the screens, which they move with precision, creating a perpetually shifting transformation of Mondrian-like formations. The movement dissects traditional filmic space and brings it into a three- dimensional plane.

‘The work is complex and multi-layered. We were playing with themes of formation and precision, almost reminiscent of a ballet,” says Pam-Grant. ‘We’ve got that precision because we’ve photographed [the dancers]. You get them in that moment. And then there’s the idea of throwing that all apart and deconstructing that.”

The movement of the screens allows the dancers to engage with their own photographic images that, in turn, explore the idea of fragmenting and reforming the dancers’ bodies.

‘What is certainly original, in my experience, is the movement of the two-dimensional surface” says Pam-Grant. ‘For me it’s still a question of whether it’s going to work or not, but I think it will work. The challenge has been to bring this two-dimensional space into movement and, hopefully, the artistry of that will be moving for the audience.”

Screen Factor 8 will be performed at 8pm and 9pm on Saturday February 21 in Sandton Square

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Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon
Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon is a lecturer in anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand and a research associate of the Migration and Health Project Southern Africa.

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