Keeping Dance Alive

The annual Baxter Dance Festival will take place from 5 to 14 October, providing a platform for South Africa’s top and upcoming dance companies to showcase the best of cutting-edge dance and choreography.

The Baxter Dance Festival is the premier dance event of its kind in the Western Cape and has become a must-see platform for studios, companies, choreographers and dance-enthusiasts. Notwithstanding the challenges of funding, the festival continues to grow significantly every year, making it the ideal festival to experience the diversity and enormous dance talent in the province. 

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fight, flight, feathers, f**ers choreographed by Sunnyboy Motau and Rachel Erdos and performed by Moving Into Dance Mophatong | Photograph: John Hogg (c.)

At the Baxter Dance Festival, Cape Dance Company (CDC) is set to present SUN – The Rite of Passage choreographed by Mthuthuzeli November and Lee van der Merwe on Friday 13 and Saturday 14 October as part of the main programme. CDC is one of South Africa’s most highly sought-after dance companies. Blending neoclassical and contemporary dance styles with a hybrid flavour of African fusion, CDC creates and performs worldwide original works by South African choreographers and presents works by international choreographers to give the company and its growing audiences’ exposure to the global dance world. Led by founding Artistic Director Debbie Turner and supported by an ensemble of dancers who never fail to captivate through their pure athleticism, humanity, physical expression and breath-taking virtuosity, CDC has been in high demand since its inception in 1995. The company presents approximately 40 performances per year across South Africa and has toured internationally to Europe, the USA and Asia. Jazzart Dance Theatre is the oldest contemporary dance company in the Cape, if not Africa. It has been at the forefront of contemporary dance development administratively and artistically, within the context of democratic practice, serving marginalised communities in particular. The company is scheduled to perform Sifiso Kweyama’s Dankbaar on Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 October as part of the main programme, and Courtney Smith’s Womentally on Saturday 7 October as part of the off main programme.

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National Arts Festival 2015 | Moving Into Dance Mophatong performs a selection of work in their ‘Schools Programme’ | Picture: Mark Wessels

Jazzart Dance Theatre has a long history as an inclusive dance company. Sonje Mayo opened Jazzart in 1973 as a dance studio specialising in modern jazz dance. From inception, Jazzart welcomed dancers from across the racial spectrum – a factor that was to become increasingly important in later years given the nature of South Africa’s political history. By 1986, Alfred Hinkel had raised enough funds to buy the company, change its name to Jazzart Dance Theatre and take over its artistic directorship with Dawn Langdown, John Linden and Jay Pather providing the dancing, teaching and choreographic backbone. In an era when professional dance theatre was the virtually exclusive domain of the ruling white elite, he was forging a teaching and performance ethos firmly based in the populist thinking of the South African political struggle. Throughout the apartheid regime’s declaration of successive states of political emergency from 1985 to 1989, and on into the sociopolitical upheavals of the early 1990s, Jazzart’s place in the South African performing arts scene was marked by an increasing politicisation and outspoken opposition to the status quo. Today, Jazzart Dance Theatre occupies as important a place in South African performing arts as it did at the time when it made a point of snubbing oppressive racial policies. The company continues to train young dancers for the professional stage and careers in the arts, to perform repertoire works and to create new pieces reflecting current realities.

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fight, flight, feathers, f**ers choreographed by Sunnyboy Motau and Rachel Erdos and performed by Moving Into Dance Mophatong | Photograph: John Hogg (c.)

Johannesburg-based Moving into Dance (MID) will present a multi-layered programme on Thursday 5 and Friday 6 October, starting with Oscar Buthelezi’s Road, followed by Sunnyboy Mandla Motau’s My Black is Black and finishing with Motau and Rachel Erdosfight, flight, feathers.f***ers’. Established in 1978 by Sylvia Glasser as one of the first few mixed-race dance companies and training organisations, MID has had a major impact as a leading contemporary African dance company, pioneering their Afrofusion and Edudance styles. Internationally recognised as an incubator producing a multitude of award-winning and productive dancers, choreographers, arts administrators and teachers, this Non-Profit Organisation has become recognised as a serious development organisation and a professional dance company with international acclaim. As well as the full-time professional dance company, MID has a full-time one-year fully accredited Performing Arts Training Course, a Trainee/Apprentice Programme, an extensive Outreach Programme that extends into under-resourced areas throughout South Africa, and recreational dance classes for the general public. ‘Cultural fusion in dance is the integration or synthesis of two or more cultural forms of movement expression with their roots in different traditions and with different aesthetic values. The outcome of this form of fusion is a new or syncretic form of cultural expression.

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National Arts Festival 2015 | Moving Into Dance Mophatong performs a selection of work in their ‘Schools Programme’ | Picture: Mark Wessels

‘The combination of African ritual, music, and dancing with Western forms of contemporary dance was the basis of this new form. The tradition of Moving into Dance remains fusion, but the particular style of fusion develops continually as the young choreographers and teachers explore their own styles. As dance is a living expression of culture, it is in a continual state of change.’ – Sylvia Glasser, Pioneer of Afrofusion in South Africa. 

Young, upcoming dancer and choreographer Kirvan Fortuin will present a groundbreaking new work on Friday 13 and Saturday 14 October as part of the main programme. Fortuin started dancing at age 13 as part a member of the Field Band Foundation. After receiving his dance teacher’s diploma from UCT, he was offered a place in the Bachelor of Dance at Codarts University for the Arts in the Netherlands. ‘My interest in choreography started while I was in the Field Band,’ he says. ‘Choreographing our shows was my responsibility as well as doing the visual designs for the band.’ In April 2016, Fortuin performed Quiet Waters with Codarts and New World Dance Theatre. New World Dance Theatre will also be presenting works at the Baxter Dance Festival: Marlin Zoutman’s Invoke and The Hours Between. Dance is incredibly strong in South Africa, and one could write pages and pages on the excellent work of our dance companies – not just in creating choreography that sets international benchmarks, but also in what they do to uplift and give back to communities, training the next generation of outstanding dancers and choreographers.

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