If there's one thing you can be sure of when it comes to contemporary dance, it's that you don't quite know what you're going to get. So, if you're already accustomed to, if not a fan of, the genre and you have the opportunity to see new work, you've got to bank on the reputation of the choreographers - just as they're banking on you to back them at the box office.
I have been fortunate to be exposed to the outputs of many of these creative minds - some performances are memorable, because they were so bad; shocking in content, poor in execution or devoid of anything remotely connected to dance. Others are impressive, because they have managed to convey meaning through what are arguably non-conventional dance bodies or atypical dance platforms through performers who are passionate about their craft, trained to bring out the best in their bodies and as adept at acting as they are at dancing. Alfred Hinkel and John Linden are South African choreographic luminaries in the latter group, now making work in the Northern Cape.
A fair amount of trepidation
But it was not without a fair amount of trepidation that I entered the Baxter Theatre to watch their commissioned work, which premiered at the Dance Umbrella in Joburg earlier this year. Dansmettieduiwels tackles the subject of sexual abuse within the priesthood of the Catholic Church, in a work that Hinkel describes as an "ancient biblical myth with a Greek tragedy feel to it".
Of course, there were mixed reactions. Some people couldn't watch it and left midway, while others sighed loudly and tut-tutted, but stuck it out. They were in the minority. Some of the opening-night audience felt strong enough about the piece to applaud it with a standing ovation, while others couldn't wait to debate the work over a glass of wine.
The consensus? Brilliant choreography around a tough subject by a team that last presented work on a Cape Town stage four years ago. Their absence has been felt.
This piece can be described as inspirational, educational, challenging, emotional and powerful. And the artists get it. Former Jazzart Dance Theatre company member Grant van Ster (the priest), Christopher Samuels (Adam) and Illse Samuels (both previously of Namjive, based in Namaqualand), 17-year-old Farroll Coetzee (their abused son) and Byron Klaasen (Eros) rise to the occasion, having been bolstered over the years by Hinkel's particular approach to training. They are incredible to watch.
Questionable relevance of S&M
The choreographers lost the audience in some elements: afterwards the relevance of the S&M scene was questioned as was the lack of resolution in the ending. People looking for answers where the choreographers have none. Or none that they want to share. Yet.
Fashion designer Marsten Carsten took care of the costumes and projection design with spectacular lighting design in the very capable hands of Bennie Arendse.
An open mind is recommended for this one. If you can get that far, hopefully you can then appreciate and admire the artistry, the performances, the music- and leave with a deeper awareness of an issue that begs resolution.