A thrilling mix of grace and power

My weekend’s highlight at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown was always going to be Cape Dance Company’s show. And that was before Mthuthuzeli November’s devastatingly gorgeous solo.

I had had a taste of the CDC show during a short run at Artscape in Cape Town earlier in the year. I knew what I was in for … or so I thought.

A Thousand Shepherds and Enemy Behind the Gates, Christopher Huggins’ award-winning ballet, took my breath away the last time.

Neither disappointed in Grahamstown, far from it. What I had not expected was Convivencia, the solo by November, who was on a fleeting visit from London to perform in this show.

MthuthuNovember
Mthuthuzeli November. Pic: Helena Fagan

It is hard to imagine a combination of power and grace as compelling as November’s. As I watched him I thought, Perhaps I am watching the dancer of this generation.

November, who was trained by Dance for All in Xolani and the Cape Academy of Performing Arts, is a former CDC member. He visited briefly from London, where he is a member of Ballet Black, to perform this solo and to take part in Enemy Behind the Gates.

His presence on stage makes it even harder than usual to know who to watch when CDC performs. Among the other individuals who dominate my attention are the ever-green Louisa Talbot, Nathan Bartman, who leads A Thousand Shepherds, and Londiwe Khoza, recently announced as a winner of the Rolex Mentor prize for dance.

CDC stands out as a company of magnificently talented individuals, none less than the company’s founding artistic director Debbie Turner, who must surely be credited for the way every piece holds together as if the dancers had never danced anything else or with anyone else.

This year is CDC’s 21st birthday and quite aptly also the first time the company was presented on the National Arts Festival’s Main Programme after 21 years of performing on the Fringe.

Shepherds
A Thousand Shepherds. Pic: Pat Bromilow-Downing

A Thousand Shepherds screams out to all your senses, most loudly to the sixth one. Inspired by the concept of pilgrimage, Spanish-UK choreographer José Agudo’s acclaimed work skillfully takes the audience on a spiritual journey.

The invitation to start the journey is flamenco-inspired, rhythmic and flowing movements where the costumes mimic the dance, magnifying the seduction. Barely imperceptible shifts in style and speed build to a tribal tempo, which is both haunting and thrilling.

In Enemy Behind the Gates, lightening-fast choreography and military-style athleticism create an almost threatening tension. At times, the air feels heavy with danger, but it is overlaid with a grace and a rhythm that makes one feel bullet-proof, like anything is possible. And anything is possible, it is the National Arts Festival after all.

The festival runs until July 10. More information and tickets: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za
– African News Agency (ANA)

Siobhan Cassidy

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