This year marks the 21st anniversary of the Dance Umbrella. The festival began in 1989 as a three-day showcase of local talent, organised by dance practitioners cut off from the rest of the dance world by a cultural embargo that threatened the exchange of ideas. Today it is an international event, a place for dance practitioners to present new works to a local audience as well as international contemporaries. This year’s festival runs for 21 days, and includes performances, workshops for dance practitioners, film screenings and discussions.
Festival director Georgina Thompson notes that the festival was forced to shift from a professional platform to a showcase event as public awareness and support of the art form grew, and as dancers and choreographers demanded more innovation. ‘The festival re-structured the system by adding commissioned choreographers, supporting local and international dance companies, but still retaining the open platform for other work. In doing so, it has given the South African audience a wider perspective of the art form and what it has to offer”.
Highlights of the festival include the New Moves festival that provides a platform for young choreographers, and the Stepping Stones initiative that aims to take dance out of the traditional theatre space and into communities.
The festival opened on February 25 with two shows, local choreographer Tracy Human’s Soft and German company Dorkypark’s Hell on Earth, choreographed by Constanze Macras. Dorkypark is made up of a diverse group of young dancers, and this piece offers an often humorous, occasionally absurd look at ‘outsiders”, at those who find themselves out of sync with the world around them. It is also an interesting start to the festival, a piece firmly rooted in Western contemporary dance but offering stories from a wide range of ethnicities.
Local choreographer Gregory Maqoma will present his new work Skeleton Dry at the Market Theatre on February 27 and 28. It is inspired by the harsh landscape of the Skeleton Coast in Namibia, and the idea that “once one gets there, they will not return”.
Tuning into the Void is a French work that breaks the rules of traditional theatre space, and takes the form of a ‘living sculpture” suspended in a trapeze-like contraption above Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown. The choreographers, Fabrice Guillot and Genevieve Mazin, have captured the essence of ‘the void”– unlimited empty space, that presents no restrictions on movement. The performance takes place on February 28 at noon and 5pm.