Jazzart Dance Company

December 19, 1999

Jazzart Dance Company

Nico Arena, Cape Town

South Africa

December 19, 1998-January 16, 1999

Reviewed by Adrienne Sichel

In the politically turbulent 1980s, Jazzart Dance Theatre stirred up major controversy with its stand against the blueprint of the European classical dance aesthetic being imposed on African bodies.

A decade later, Jazzart, which celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, has appropriated strains of classical technique and tradition and tailored these aspects to its cross-cultural needs. This tactic was first evident in the company in 1997 and 1998, under the direction of Jazzart pioneer and artistic director Alfred Hinkel.

Jazzart’s latest offering, duck ‘n DANCE a faerie tale? contains the usual Jazzart ingredients grounded in a distinctive vocabulary born out of contact improvisation, multiculturalism, the exploration of African rhythms, indigenous traditional and urban forms, and local languages woven into the text. This theater piece goes one step further in expanding on Jazzart’s Afrocentric cultural treatise. It is a loose deconstruction of Swan Lake, set in South Africa, with the addition of circus flying techniques. Conceptualized and directed by Debbie Goodman and Hinkel, it was choreographed in collaboration with the ten dancers, with input from stuntmaster Anthony “Mo” Marais and Andrew McKenzie. A major strength is Rene Avenant’s commissioned score, which fulfills its objective as a “portrait of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake revisited as a modern African experience.”

This urban myth still needs radical fine tuning to fulfill its undeniable promise. The superbly danced choreography, with its symbiosis of Zulu indlamu (traditional dance) with classical and contemporary elements needs to be integrated into a sounder dramatic structure. There are also other hazards, like the dreadfully lame title. What is clear is that Jazzart has lost none of its ability to tap into the evolving South African theater dance culture.

For contrast, read a review of Cape Town City Ballet’s Cinderella in May 1999 Dance Magazine.