The Cape Dance Company's recent season premiere of Grace at the Artscape Theatre, Cape Town, attracted an interesting mix of dance aficionados, established fans and media as well as those uninitiated to the world of contemporary and neo-classical dance. Their responses to the programme varied accordingly, but they certainly agreed on one thing: that they were in the presence of greatness.
While some were eager to endow the highest praise on a company and cast that consistently rises to the challenges set by acclaimed local and international choreographers, on behalf of artistic director Debbie Turner, those not yet won over to the genre were perplexed at the sometime discordant composition of the music and choreography. In the context of Bradley Shelver's Scenes, that was by design. He begins his reflection of the process of creating art with a male trio performing "pure movement, fast and technical, without emotion". The second section is light, playful and uncomplicated, featuring five women and a man. It leads into a pas de deux choreographed to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and perfected for the opening night by Grant van Ster and Louisa Talbot. This third section portrays a more mature relationship that's constant and reliable; nonetheless complicated. The fourth and final section is danced to minimalist, repetitive music that "simmers with stress ... a possible comment on everyday life".
Both works by American choreographer Christopher L Huggins, assisted by Makeda Crayton on When Dawn Comes and Kayoko Amemiya on Enemy Behind The Gates, were met with rapturous applause. Dawn was as mesmerising as Enemy was gripping. With pieces as powerful as these, they can only get better.
One of the most magical musical moments of the programme is George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, which provides the framework for some classy jazz choreography by Adele Blank, in Mnemenology. And there's light relief for the audience and dancers alike in Michelle Reid's There Will Be Murder, in-between Blank's memories of a life in dance and the energy-sapping Enemy.
In effect, Grace sees all the dancers up their game. Mthuthuzeli November, Aviwe November and Londiwe Khoza are flourishing, making the most of the opportunities to develop alongside experienced professionals: Grant van Ster, Louisa Talbot, Simone Muller, James Bradley, Marlin Zoutman, Elzanne Crause, Angela Lee Rebelo, Ipeleng Merafe and Gregory Magagula, and guest artists of the calibre of former Cape Town City Ballet principal Megan Swart. Up-and-coming dancers Martin Harding, Tamryn van Houten, Carmen Lotz and Raine Waring are rising to the challenge too.
Now that's dancing!
Van Ster's partners all shine through his partnering skill, while the pairings of the pas de deux throughout the programme are well balanced and solid. It's difficult to pick a highlight; as one esteemed audience member said afterwards: "Now that's dancing!"
With what appeared to be more dance aficionados in attendance than usual, some having travelled from beyond provincial borders, could it be that the Cape Dance Company is finally getting the local recognition it deserves? Incomparable to any other professional dance company on the continent as regards its performance style, standard and repertoire, with aspirations towards a "hybrid mix of dance excellence using a fusion of techniques and styles" of international quality - few could argue that they're on the wrong track. Exceptional costuming by Dicky Longhurst, lighting design by Faheem Bardien and sound operation by Mark Manoek add the final touches to a tremendous performance.
Watch the amazing Grace from Wednesday, 12 December to Saturday, 15 December at 8pm with a matinee that day at 3pm.